South Cot vice gov urges 'utmost care' in making IRR of controversial Environment Code

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/04 October) — South Cotabato Vice Governor Elmo B. Tolosa has asked the provincial executive department to exercise “utmost care” in crafting the implementing rules and regulations of the controversial Provincial Environment Code, an
ordinance that would greatly affect the operations of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. and possibly other mining ventures in the province.

The Code expressly prohibits the use of the open-pit mining method.

“The IRR is not easy to make considering [that the Environment Code] is a very sensitive and controversial issue. This must be approached with utmost care, consideration, discretion and wisdom,” he said.

Tolosa issued the statement after the completion of the publication requirements for the Code, which was published on Sept. 18 and 25 and on October 2 in a local paper.

He told reporters that with the completion of the publication requirements the next step is to write the IRR, which, he said, is the responsibility of the executive department.

The vice governor said the Code is now in effect since the publication requirements have been complied with.

Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. late last week issued a similar statement. But he clarified to MindaNews today that the Code will take effect 15 days after the last publication.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel argued that the Code has become effective since the publication requirements have been completed.

The weekly Southern Recorder won the bidding process to publish the Code.

The publication of the Environment Code is a requisite for it to become operative. Section 179 or the effectivity clause of the code states: “This Code shall take effect fifteen days following the posting requirements and after its full publication compliance for three consecutive issues in a local newspaper of general circulation within the Province of South Cotabato, whichever occurs later.”

There are petitions to review the Code from sectors supportive of the venture of Sagittarius Mines and this have been referred to the environment and legal affairs committees of the provincial board, said Tolosa.

Sand and gravel quarry operators have also asked for the review of the open-pit ban for fear it would hamper their operations, he added.

Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel, which is staunchly opposing the Tampakan project, nixed any review of the Code, noting this should be the legacy of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to the people of South Cotabato.

The Tampakan project, which is targeted for commercial operation by 2016, has the potential to yield 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold. Sagittarius Mines, which is currently in the exploratory stage, is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the minority equity partner.

Aside from the deposits in Tampakan, South Cotabato’s Lake Sebu town is also rich in coal with an estimated volume of 426 million metric tons.

Food-to-energy conglomerate San Miguel Corp. has acquired Sultan Energy Philippines Corp., Daguma Agro Minerals Inc., and Bonanza Energy Resources Corp., the companies with the rights over coal deposits in the area.

There are also iron deposits in the province that might be affected by the open-pit ban but data from the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau were not immediately available.

Constancio A. Paye Jr., regional MGB director, said the talks with Pingoy for a compromise deal, as earlier directed by President Benigno S. Aquino III, did not yield positive results.

The governor is taking a hands-off stance as matters related to such is the domain of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, said Paye, adding there was only one meeting between Pingoy and key national officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in August.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, was unavailable for comment despite repeated calls. (MindaNews)