South Cotabato, Davao Sur lawmakers to hold joint session on boundary conflict

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/02 August) — The Sangguniang Panlalawigans of South Cotabato and Davao del Sur have agreed to conduct a joint session to thresh out the boundary dispute between the two provinces caused by the operation of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Legislators from both provinces held a meeting here last week to discuss the issue, and agreed to form a technical working group to settle the company’s real property tax payment.

The TWG shall draft the memorandum of agreement for a “win-win” solution to the boundary conflict, a press statement from the South Cotabato information office said on Tuesday.

The joint session is slated in October, where the TWG’s output will be discussed.

The TWG will be composed of four members from each province, and their respective legal officers, assessors, treasurer and planning and development coordinators.

Sagittarius Mines last year paid P2.3 million in taxes to Kiblawan town in Davao del Sur, prompting officials from Tampakan town in South Cotabato to raise a howl.

Ervin Luntao, chairman of the South Cotabato provincial board’s committee on ways and means, said the province’s demand for RPT payment from Sagittarius Mines does not mean they are now favoring the mining venture of the company.

South Cotabato has imposed a ban on open-pit mining, the method Sagittarius Mines said it will employ in extracting massive copper and gold deposits in its Tampakan project.

“It’s a separate issue. The provincial board has yet to decide whether they will be allowed to operate [given the open pit ban]. For the meantime, they have to pay their real property taxes,” Luntao said in the statement.

South Cotabato Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa, SP presiding officer, said earlier they have agreed with their counterparts to split evenly the local taxes due from Sagittarius Mines covering the disputed area.

The disputed area involves 4,500 hectares in Bong Mal, where Sagittarius Mines has set up a camp for its exploration activities.

The ban on open-pit mining, approved in June last year, was seen to pose a risk to the planned $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project of the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines.

Ten months have passed now since the formal petition to review the environment code has been filed before the provincial board. The petition was mainly anchored on two grounds–that it was contrary to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and to a “great extent” Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

The matter remains at the joint committees on environmental protection and justice and legal matters, which is both chaired by Ernesto Catedral.

“It’s still under serious study,” Catedral said in a text message. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)