South Cotabato board yet to decide on review of envi code as IRR okayed

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/25 March) – Dismayed but still hopeful.

Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. on Friday aired frustrations over the signing of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the controversiaacl environment code that bans open-pit mining method in South Cotabato.

At the same time, John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said the company is pinning hopes the Sangguniang Panlalawigan would favor a review of the environment code to lift the open-pit mining ban as pushed by pro-mining groups.

“SMI notes the signing of the IRR of the South Cotabato environment code…. We are aware that some members of the technical working group tasked by the South Cotabato provincial government with drafting the IRR lodged their dissent to some provisions, including the ban on open-pit mining,” he said in a text message.

Arnaldo noted that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942 does not prohibit open-pit mining method.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. on Thursday signed the IRR, saying it will pave the way for the implementation of the environment code after the requisite publication in a newspaper.

“Unless the court or the Sangguniang Panlalawigan lifts the open-pit mining ban, I will implement it. That’s been my stance,” he told reporters during the ceremonial signing.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Diocese of Marbel, said the ban on open-pit mining was a stand-alone provision of the environment code.

“The ban on open pit mining in the province of South Cotabato was not given specific guidelines because the provision itself is already very clear,” Pamplona said.

Ernesto Catedral, chair of the SP committees on environment protection and justice and legal matters, said the IRR would serve as guidelines for the governor’s office in implementing the environment code.

He noted, however, the signing of the IRR would have nothing to do with the pending matter at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan involving the requests to review the environment code.

“We have already finished the committee hearings where the opposing sides presented their arguments but a decision has not been made whether to review the environment code,” Catedral said.

He did not give a deadline when the decision will be made, saying members were asked to submit their positions in writing.

So far, only one has submitted a position but Catedral declined to name the member.

A source, however, identified the member as Jose Madanguit, vice chairman of the committee on environment protection, whose stance was against the review of the open-pit ban.

Madanguit was former chairman of the committee on environment protection of the previous Sangguniang Panlalawigan that approved the controversial environment code, which former South Cotabato governor and now 1st District Rep. Daisy P. Avance Fuentes signed into law last June.

Arnaldo said the signing of the environment code’s IRR would not immediately impact the company’s Tampakan project as it targets to go on commercial stream by 2016, potentially the country’s single largest direct foreign investment at $5.9 billion.

“We continue to monitor this issue [open-pit mining ban] closely,” he said.

The Tampakan project is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, with estimated resources of 2.4 billion metric tons containing 13.5 million MT of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold at a 0.3% cut-off grade (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)