SouthCot provincial board bans open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/3 June) – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato has voted to ban open-pit mining in the province, a move that merited praises from the staunchly anti-mining Catholic church.

“[It’s] Divine intervention!” declared Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel who is leading the church’s opposition to large-scale mining. “This is a triumph for the people not only of South Cotabato but also nearby provinces,” he added.

Catedral and anti-mining groups have been closely following deliberations of the environment code the past two weeks as they urged the politicians leave a legacy that would protect the people and environment from the harms of open-pit mining.

Tampakan town in South Cotabato is at the center of a proposed large-scale mining operation, mainly for copper and gold, by the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. The copper deposits in the area are said to be the largest undeveloped resource in Southeast Asia.

On Wednesday, the SP, after a marathon session to deliberate on the province’s environment code, voted 5-4 banning open pit mining. There was one abstention while two other board members were absent.

The debate focused on the sentence “mining in any form shall not be allowed in the province of South Cotabato.” The board members eventually settled on “open pit mining method and all other forms of mining shall not be allowed in the province of South Cotabato.”

But in a special session on Thursday, the provincial board voted anew, 6 to 5, to ban only the open-pit mining method, according to Fr. Catedral, who still considers the development a victory. Open-pit mining has been considered by environment groups as the most destructive method.

Catedral said they will continue watching closely the deliberations – which has been going on for the last few years — until the environment code becomes an ordinance before June 30 as promised by the provincial legislators.

Sagittarius, however, seems unfazed over the development.

“The Philippine Mining Act [Republic Act 7942] allows open pit mining. A local law cannot supersede a national law,” said John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius corporate communications manager.

The provincial environment code, thus, “won’t have a bearing in as far as the plans of the company to pursue the Tampakan project” is concerned, he said.

But Arnaldo said the company will continue the dialogues with the stakeholders. (MindaNews)