SouthCot legal office endorses IRR of Environment Code that bans open-pit mining

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 February) —  The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the controversial environment code of South Cotabato that bans open-pit mining method has been approved by the Provincial Legal Office (PLO).

The IRR is the only document awaited by South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr. to fully implement the environment ordinance, which poses a risk to the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Sagittarius Mines, controlled by Xstrata Copper, plans to use open-pit mining method in the Tampakan project, the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia. It eyes commercial operations by 2016.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, said the PLO-approved copy of the Environment Code was sent to them on Saturday, a copy of which he furnished MindaNews, along with the original draft approved by the technical working group (TWG) in December that underwent minor revisions last January.

The PLO did the final “styling.”

Catedral said the “scrutinized document approved by the provincial legal office is acceptable. There are no changes especially on the provision on the ban on open-pit mining.”

In both the TWG and the PLO documents, the controversial measure was a stand-alone provision in Chapter 2, Article 2, Section 22, paragraph B, which states, “Open-pit mining method shall not be allowed in the Province of South Cotabato.”

Catedral said members of the TWG agreed not to put any more particular guidelines to the open-pit ban as the provision itself is already very clear.

Rules, however, were specified on those provisions that were vague, such as the extraction of quarry resources and several others.

Quarry resources have been defined under the environment code as any common rock or other mineral substances as the Director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau may declare as quarry resources, such as, andesite, basalt, conglomerate, coral sand, diatomaceous earth, diorite, decorative stones, gabbro, granite, limestone, marble, marl, red burning clays for potteries and bricks, rhyolite, rock phosphate, sandstone, serpentine, shale, tuff, volcanic glass, provided, that such quarry resources do not contain metals or metallic constituents and/or other valuable minerals in economically workable quantities.  Non-metallic minerals such as kaolin, feldspar, bull quartz        or silica, sand and pebbles, bentonite, talc, asbestos, barite, gypsum, bauxite, magnetite, dolomite, mica, precious and semi-precious stones and other non-metallic minerals that may later be discovered and which the Director of Mines declares the same to be or economically workable quantities shall not be classified under the category of a quarry resource.

Open pit mining, on the other hand, has been defined as a surface mining operation in which blocks of earth are dug from the surface to extract the ore contained therein.  Open-pit mining also refers to a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or burrow.  The term is used to differentiate this form of mining from extractive methods that require tunneling into the earth.

Catedral said the Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO) called for a meeting of  TWG members on February 15 to comment on the PLO-approved IRR draft.

Before the IRR’s submission to the governor, Catedral said they earlier agreed that TWG members should affix their signatures to the document.

The TWG is composed of the religious sector, the provincial government, a non-government organization, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the quarry operators, among others.

Last month, Pingoy said he would sign the IRR of the Environment Code once the Provincial Legal Office approves it.

Ramon Ponce de Leon, PEMO chief, said the “governor badly wants the IRR for the implementation” of the Environment code.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato has been besieged by requests to review the Environment Code, particularly the lifting of the open-pit mining ban, from pro-mining supporters. The legislative body has discussed the request but a decision has not been firmed up.  (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)