Gov Pingoy: On with ban on open-pit mine

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/24 September) — Unless the provincial environment code of South Cotabato is declared void and contrary to existing laws, Gov. Arthur Pingoy said he is duty-bound to implement the landmark local legislation which bans open-pit mining in the province.

“As the governor of this province, I will implement the ordinance that there will be no open-pit mining in the province,” the governor said before qualifying his statement.

The governor issued the statement at the closing of the public consultation held Friday in this provincial capital and organized by the local government unit.

Both the proponent of the multi-billion dollar Tampakan copper and gold project and groups opposed to it presented their respective arguments for and against the controversial US$5.9-billion mining venture.

Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), owner of the copper and gold project, presented the results of its environment impact assessment (EIA) before a jam-packed crowd of close to 5,000 at the provincial gym.  Hundreds of others waited and listened to loud speakers outside the gym.

A huge crowd, organized by the local Church, attends the public forum on mining organized by the provincial government of South Cotabato at the South Cotabato Gymnasium in Koronadal City on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. MindaNews photo by Bong SarmientoAnti-mining groups led by the Catholic Church also sent their own environment and mining experts who refuted the SMI’s EIA, claiming a major disaster could spell the death of thousands of residents downstream along the major river systems where its mining operation will take place.

Rene Cruz, an engineer who was part of the team hired by SMI that conducted the study, was not able to immediately determine the extent of damage and the number of people who may perish from such a disaster when questioned by Clive Wicks, one of the resource persons of the Catholic Church.

SMI is in the process of obtaining permits and licenses from government regulating bodies. It is eyeing to commence commercial production of copper and gold ores in 2016.

In addition to ‘clearing’ 3,965 hectares of arable and forested lands, SMI will also build a 400-megawatt coal-fired power plant, port facilities and a 40-kilometer pipeline conveyor system connecting the open-pit mine in Tampakan, South Cotabato to Malalag in Davao del Sur where the company’s berthing and offsite facilities will be located.

Gov. Pingoy however declined to say if his position is meant to challenge those who may question in court the provision of the provincial environment code specifically banning open pit mining method.

The governor said that unless ordered by the courts, he will have to deny any request by SMI for permits from the provincial government.

SMI manager for corporate community development Elvie Granchera who answered most of the questions hurled against SMI, declined to comment on the apparent legal challenge hurled by Gov. Pingoy.

She said only John Arnaldo is allowed to answer questions from the press.

Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager, did not answer however calls made to his mobile phone number.

He later sent a statement through short messaging system saying they are grateful to the governor and members of the provincial board for the opportunity to present their EIA.

“We remain hopeful that the information shared will help the SP (provincial board) in considering the review of the ban on open pit mining,” Arnaldo further said.

His team earlier declined a request for an interview with one of the scientists hired by SMI who conducted the EIA.

Company sources however said SMI maintains it is a mere contractor and holder of the Columbio Financial Assistance Agreement (FTAA) which covered the Tampakan copper and gold project.

In effect, company officials are banking on the national government to be the one to question the constitutionality of the provincial environment code.

South Cotabato provincial board member Cecil Diel said they are open to a review not only of the ban on open pit mining but also other provisions of the controversial ordinance.

But Diel added that she remains opposed to the said mining method.

She likewise vehemently protested an earlier administrative order issued by Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo ordering the provincial board to review the code.

The environment code was signed by former governor and now South Cotabato Rep. Daisy Fuentes.

Signing the code was among the last official acts of Fuentes who is opposed to a review of the landmark local legislation this early. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews Contributor)