South Cotabato governor proud open-pit mine ban withstood pressures

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/04 July) — South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr. on Monday took pride in keeping in place the provincial open-pit mining ban that poses a risk to the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Pingoy delivered a 50-minute State of the Province Address where he highlighted his administration’s performance for the past year, including advances in the [local] economy, health, education, infrastructure and tourism, among other aspects.

“The provincial government sustained the open-pit ban despite pressures from the national government and other sectors,” he said.

Last March, the governor said the implementing rules and regulations for the environment code that prohibits open-pit mining have been approved.

Pingoy noted the decision to keep the ban on open-pit mining has the solid backing of Diocese of Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, a staunch critic of Sagittarius Mines’ Tampakan project.

The Tampakan project, which is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, is among the foreign direct investments the Aquino administration wants to proceed.

In his early days in office, President Benigno S. Aquino III had ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to come to a deal with the provincial government for the possible lifting of the ban.

A meeting eventually took place but bore nothing positive for Malacanang.

In November, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo issued a memorandum to the provincial government ordering the suspension of the environment code, a move that only angered local officials.

Robredo’s memorandum opined that the ban on open pit mining is not in accordance with Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“In view thereof, you are hereby enjoined to cause the immediate suspension of the implementation of said ordinance pending its review,” the memorandum stated.

Pingoy, the province’s fifth governor, earlier said in various occasions only the court could prevent him from enforcing the ban on open-pit mining, or if the Sangguniang Panlalawigan decides to amend the ordinance.

Former governor and now Second District Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes signed the environment code that bans open-pit mining in the province.

As of today, the provincial board has yet to decide on petitions whether to review the controversial environment code.

Sagittarius Mines officials have been hoping for an amendment to the open-pit ban so they can smoothly operate the Tampakan project, which is expected to start commercial operation in 2016.

The company is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as junior partner.

But while Pingoy cited the implementation of the open-pit mining ban as a key achievement, he also noted the help of Sagittarius Mines in improving the education and health care in the province. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)