Sec. Robredo wants talks with SoCot officials on open-pit mine ban

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 December) – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is seeking more dialogues with officials of South Cotabato province over the controversial ban on open-pit mining in the area even as it stands pat with its earlier directive issued to the local government, mandating the immediate review and revision of the measure.

DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo said he plans to meet with South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. and members of the provincial board in the coming weeks to resolve the pending legal questions over the open-pit mining ban, which was set under the province’s newly-approved environment code.

“We want to resolve this in a manner of continuing dialogues with the concerned officials and eventually come up with some kind of agreement rather than going to the courts,” he told reporters here Wednesday.

Robredo, who graced the ongoing four-day Training/Seminar on Crisis Intervention and Management here, reiterated that the provincial government of South Cotabato should review and amend Ordinance No. 4 or the Provincial Environment Code, stressing it was “inconsistent”
with the provisions of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act.

He specifically cited Section 22, Paragraph b of the code that imposes the ban on the use of the open-pit mining method in the province.

Last month, Robredo issued a memorandum to the provincial government of South Cotabato, directing the suspension of the code’s implementation pending its review and amendment.

But South Cotabato officials, led by Gov. Pingoy, shot down Robredo’s directive saying they are inclined to fully implement the provisions of the environment code, including the ban on open-pit mining, unless it is nullified by the courts.

The governor earlier commissioned the creation of a technical working group for the drafting of the code’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) in preparation for its implementation.

Former governor and currently South Cotabato (2nd District) Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, who signed the environment code in late June after its approval then by the provincial board, censured the issuance of the DILG’s directive saying it was “beyond its mandate and authority” to do so.

Fuentes questioned the national government’s interventions over the open-pit mining ban as it supposedly appears more concerned with the billions of pesos worth of investments being poured by foreign-backed mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) into the province rather than the welfare of local residents.

SMI, which is pursuing a large-scale copper and gold mining venture in the mineral-rich mountains of Tampakan town in South Cotabato as well as in some areas of Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat, earlier signified to utilize the open-pit mining method for its proposed operations, a move opposed by the Catholic Church and other environment groups.

The company, which is mainly financed by Swiss mining player Xstrata Copper, has been pushing to begin by the year 2016 its planned commercial operations in the area, which reportedly hosts the largest copper and gold deposits in Southeast Asia.

“(But) this is not a mining issue. It’s a rule of law issue. Local governments are under the jurisdiction of the national government and therefore, local laws should not contravene with the national laws,” Robredo said.

The DILG official noted that RA 7942 has enough mechanisms that ensure the protection of the welfare and interests of residents covered by mining ventures.

He added that the mining law mainly promotes the principle of responsible mining and that the national government has the power and authority to stop any mining project or deny mining applications of companies that violate any of its provisions.

“I’m very hopeful that we can settle this matter among ourselves. I’ve talked to some board members earlier and they were very amenable to further discuss these issues,” Robredo said.

During a meeting with South Cotabato board members at the sidelines of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines convention late last month in Manila, he said they initially agreed to pursue the review of the code by January.

Lawyer Ernesto Catedral, chair of the board’s committee on environment, earlier expressed willingness to hold dialogues with concerned government agencies and officials and settle the matter as long as they will “not compromise the welfare and interests of our constituents.” (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)