SouthCot Gov to sign code banning open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 June)—Mounting calls to thumb down the environment code approved last week by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that bans open-pit mining appeared not to have changed outgoing Gov. Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes’ resolve to sign into law the controversial proposed ordinance.

“The decision for that issue was overwhelming. It’s difficult to veto it and I have no reason to veto the same,” Fuentes said in a radio interview.

Last week, the governor, who is on her last term but was voted as provincial representative of the second district in the May 10 polls, told reporters she would sign the environment code before she leaves office on June 30.

“The SP [Sangguniang Panlalawigan] reflects the voices of the people, and they voted landslide to approve the environment code. I will sign that before I leave office [on June 30],” she said.

Placards that read “have mercy on the future of our children” sprouted like mushrooms at the provincial capital here.

Streamers written in Illongo with such messages as “have mercy on us, our future lies in your hands,” “no to environment code, yes to development,” and “Gov. Daisy we can’t afford to send our children to college” have proliferated along the national highway, in front of the provincial capitol and, reportedly, at the residence of the governor.

But Fuentes appeared unfazed by the streamers obviously in support of the huge mining venture of Xstrata Copper-controlled Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in the town of Tampakan, South Cotabato and two other towns in neighboring provinces.

Sagittarius, which is eyeing massive copper and gold deposits, has announced earlier the likely method it would employ in extracting the deposits is through open-pit, due to the near-to-the-surface mineral stocks.

The bulk of the minerals are said to lie in Tampakan town.

The controversial environment code was unanimously approved last week by members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and will become an ordinance, or a local law, once Fuentes signs it.

The ban on open-pit mining method is apparently sending jitters to foreign investors, with one foreign company calling the Diocese of Marbel to ask for details of the code, Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, the diocesan social action director, said in an interview.

The diocese, which has been at the forefront of the opposition against the operations of Sagittarius, would rejoice if it will abandon the project, Catedral said.

As of Tuesday morning,  Fuentes admitted the environment code has not been submitted to her office for signing.

On Wednesday last week during the third and final reading of the bill, nine board members voted in favor of the controversial code, one opposed and two abstained.

Fuentes noted that despite the presence of Sagittarius in the province and neighboring areas for years, the host communities are still mired in poverty.

Many are still going hungry and poor that they can’t even send their children to school, which means they have no livelihood, she said.

Over the years, Sagittarius has sponsored thousands of scholars in the elementary, secondary and college levels in the areas affected by its operation.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager, said  a local law can not supersede a national law, referring to Republic Act No. 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which does not ban open-pit or any other mining method.

Also in reaction to the environment code, he noted the company has respected the concerns of its stakeholders and will continue to engage them in dialogues.

In its sustainability report issued over the weekend, Sagittarius said the Tampakan copper-gold project is a world-class 2.4 billion ton resource containing 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.

When developed, it has the potential to generate foreign investment amounting to over USD5 billion, employment opportunities for up to 8,000 to 9,000 people during construction and for around 2,000 during operations, and contribution to local and national taxes.

The company eyes 2016 as the start of its commercial production.  (MindaNews)