GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III wants the ongoing policy row involving the implementation of a ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato province resolved immediately as he stressed anew the national government’s full backing to a proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project in the province.
In a press briefing here on Thursday, the President said he has a standing directive to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to fast-track the resolution of the issues regarding the issuance of the mining ban, which was mainly seen to affect the planned mining operations of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
“We want the project to go on as planned that’s why we’ve been urging the DILG to immediately resolve this matter,” Aquino said.
Describing it as “beneficial” for both the government and local communities, the President said they were supporting SMI’s operations as a matter of “compromise.”
He said such decision mainly considered the need to strike a balance between national and local interests while ensuring the proper management of the area’s vast mineral resources and the environment.
As a “general policy for mining projects,” Aquino explained that the national government always goes with the decision of local stakeholders in terms of allowing them or not.
However, he said they were not amenable to any imposition of a ban on mining activities as they may only create more problems later on.
“If local communities don’t want them (mining projects), we’ll abide by that. But many problems may come up if we impose a mining ban like the case in Romblon that only encouraged the operations of destructive small-scale mining activities,” the President said.
In January, Romblon Gov. Eduardo Firmalo signed Executive Order No. 1, imposing an indefinite ban on metallic mining in the province.
The order was issued by the governor following a series of consultations on the possible impact of mining activities on the environment and the people’s health.
Aquino said government environment personnel in Romblon so far traced the confirmed rise in mercury levels in rivers and waterways within its identified mining areas to the proliferation of small-scale mining activities and not from major mining ventures.
“If we stop these large-scale mining projects, it will only encourage the entry of more small-scale mining activities, which are generally difficult to control and regulate,” he said.
With large-scale mining ventures, the President said the national government may easily regulate mining activities make sure that the environment is properly protected through strict compliance by mining companies with the government’s environmental policies.
“Both our local communities and the state would benefit (from this setup),” he said.
Declaring it as “not in accordance” with the country’s mining law, DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo earlier directed the provincial government of South Cotabato to review and amend the provision on the open-pit mining ban embodied in the province’s Ordinance No. 4 or the Provincial Environment Code.
Robredo contended that such prohibition “is not in accordance with RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act, which does not explicitly prohibit the use of open-pit mining in the extraction of mineral resources.”
But provincial officials by South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. stood pat on the code’s provisions saying only the courts may nullify them.
Earlier this month, Pingoy signed the implementing rules and regulations of the Environment Code, setting off the full implementation of its provisions, including the open-pit mining ban.
Last year, a high-level team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) commissioned by the President had tried but failed to come up with a compromise resolution with South Cotabato officials regarding the ban.
SMI officials had disclosed that the company was inclined to utilize the open-pit mining method for its proposed operations in the area, which reportedly hosts the largest underdeveloped copper and gold deposits in Southeast Asia.
The company, which is financed by the world’s fourth largest mining player Xstrata Copper, has been pushing to start its commercial operations by 2016. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)