SouthCot Gov inks pact with Tampakan mine operator for tree planting project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/03 September) —  South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has signed an agreement for a tree planting project with Sagittarius Mines, Inc., operator of the Tampakan copper-gold project which has been lobbying for the province to lift its ban on open pit mining.

A statement from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 12 said  Pingoy signed a memorandum of agreement Friday with the mining company in support of  a public-private partnership (PPP) involving a tree planting project.

Dubbed the “Adopt-a-Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM), the MoA also involves three people’s organization in Tampakan town–the Danlag B’laan Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Palo 19 Upland Farmers’ Association and the Buto Upland Farmers’ Association.

Aside from Pingoy, those who signed the MoA were Alfredo Pascual, DENR regional director, and Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo. Butch Sebua, SMI superintendent for biodiversity conservation, signed on behalf of the mining company.

The move is in pursuance to Executive Order No. 26 signed by President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III in February this year implementing the National Greening Program (NGP) “to reduce poverty, conserve and protect the natural resources, enhance productivity, and mitigate climate change”.

Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje earlier described the NGP national goal of  1.5 billion trees  planted in six years as ambitious but possible. “NGP takes its strength from converging the skills and resources of just about every sector in our society, be it in public or private sectors,” he said.

Under the project which shall be implemented for three years, farmers belonging to a people’s organization, will reforest and maintain their project site. The area for development will be shown in a control map to be developed jointly by the concerned farmers’ group and local government units, the DENR, and SMI, which will also provide financial assistance, among others.

On the other hand, the DENR and the LGUs of South Cotabato and Tampakan shall provide technical assistance to the farmers and assist in the conduct of periodic monitoring and assessment of the project.

The farmer groups will be granted the right to utilize and harvest the fruits from the agroforestry farms and production forests in accordance with standing forestry laws, rules and regulations.

The Philippine Government has adopted the Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) Program as the national strategy to ensure sustainable development of the country’s forest resources and help mitigate the impacts of climate change, and improve the well-being of forest-dependent communities.

The ban on open-pit mining approved by former governor and now 2nd district Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes was seen as a stumbling block to the bid of Sagittarius Mines to go on commercial stream by 2016.

Sought for comment, Fr. Gillarme Joy Pelino, Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, expressed hopes that Pingoy’s collaboration with Sagittarius Mines won’t sacrifice the province’s prohibition on open-pit mining.

“(If the ban on open-pit mining) is jeopardized, then there’s something wrong,” he told MindaNews.

Pingoy  has repeatedly said he will enforce the open-pit mining ban, which is pending at the  Sangguniang Panlalawigan for  review and possible lifting as requested by pro-mining groups. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)