South Cotabato legislators to discuss open-pit mine ban

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 January) —The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato is set to discuss next Wednesday petitions to review the controversial provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining.

Board member Ernesto I Catedral, chairman of the committee on environment protection, said those opposed to the passage of the environment code have been invited to the joint committee hearing, the first ever since the code took effect mid-October.

Former Governor Daisy P. Avance Fuentes, now the second district representative of South Cotabato, signed the environment code in June, endangering the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. The firm eyes open-pit mining method in extracting the mineral deposits.

President Benigno S. Aquino III in his early days in office had pushed for a compromise deal between the national government and the provincial government that would allow the mining firm to proceed.

However, the ensuing meeting between the President’s men, represented by senior officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy, Jr. ended on a negative note.

In November, acting Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo also issued a memorandum ordering the suspension of the implementation of the environment code pending the review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

The memorandum of Robredo, who is expected on Monday in this city as the key guest for its foundation anniversary, argued that the provincial ban on open-pit mining is not in accordance with Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

Pingoy has defied the memorandum , while other Sangguniang Panlalawigan members castigated Robredo for the suspension order, which they said is beyond the power of the DILG chief.

Catedral said they have invited the Regional Mineral Development Council, which formally filed in September a request, among other groups, to review the environment code.

RMDC’s resolution sought a review of the code on two grounds—that it was contrary to Republic Act 7942 and to a “great extent” Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

Catedral, a lawyer, said the three mayors of the towns straddling the Tampakan project—Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur—were also invited to the hearing jointly conducted by the committees on environment protection and justice and legal matters, both of which he chairs.

Also expected to attend the meeting are the tribal chieftains within the mines development site of Sagittarius Mines, he added.

Catedral said they would also hear the side of those supporting the environment code but the date is yet to be set.

“It would give committee members the chance to hear the opposing views, which would help us decide whether to review the environment code,” he noted.

Recommendations as a result of the joint committees’ hearings would be submitted to the plenary for final approval.

Those supportive of the environment code include the local Catholic Church through the Diocese of Marbel, which has maintained that there is no need to review the code that bans open-pit mining.

Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, urged Sagittarius Mines to abandon the Tampakan project, noting it poses danger to the environment, human health and food security.

Officials of Sagittarius Mines have said that they “respect the views of those opposed to their project,” and assured they will conduct “responsible mining” in their operations targeted to go on commercial stream by 2016.

Based on the Mine Project Feasibility Study submitted by Sagittarius Mines to the government in April, the Tampakan project could yield an average life of mine annual production rate of 370,000 metric tons and 360,000 ounces of copper and gold, respectively. The initial life mine estimate for the Tampakan project was pegged at 17 years.

The previous estimate was an annual average production rate of 340,000 tons and 350,000 ounces of copper and gold, respectively.

Sagittarius Mines also revised the development cost for the Tampakan project to $5.9 billion from $5.5 billion, including the provision of $900 million for a dedicated power station.

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, controls Sagittarius Mines through a 62.5-percent interest, with the rest held by Australian firm Indophil Resources NL. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)