South Cotabato seeks 5-year mining moratorium

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 January) – Worried over a repeat of last month’s devastating floods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, South Cotabato officials are pushing for a five-year moratorium on all mining activities in critical mountain areas within the province.

Board member Ernesto Catedral, chair of the provincial board’s committee on environment, said his committee is studying the stoppage of all small- and large-scale mining-related operations in the next five years to complement the ongoing reforestation initiatives in the area.

He said the move will facilitate the restoration of the province’s dwindling forest cover, which was reportedly down to just around 25 percent.

“The forest covers of the mountains surrounding Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were estimated at 35 to 40 percent when they were hit by (storm) Sendong. So just imagine what might happen to us in the event another typhoon with the same intensity would hit our area,” Catedral said in a radio interview.

Along with the proposed mining moratorium, Catedral said they will push for the implementation of massive tree planting or reforestation activities within the province’s critical forests.

“In five years, I think we can be assured that the trees we planted have grown enough to survive for a long time,” he said.

When mining activities are stopped, the official said the cutting of trees in forests surrounding several mining areas in the province would also cease.

He specifically cited the ongoing clearing of some mountain areas in the municipalities of Tampakan, T’boli and Lake Sebu, where the small and large-scale mining activities in the province are mainly concentrated.

Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is currently exploring the mountains of Tampakan town, which reportedly hosts Southeast Asia’s largest underdeveloped copper and gold deposits, for its planned large-scale mining project.

Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corporation is operating a gold and silver mining venture in T’boli town while conglomerate San Miguel Corporation is currently working on a coal mining project in the mountains of Lake Sebu town.

Small-scale mining activities, including the illegal “banlas” or sluice mining, are also thriving in several gold rush villages in T’boli and Tampakan towns.

Catedral said several board members and provincial officials have initially expressed support to the proposed mining moratorium.

“I’m convinced that our provincial officials and our mayors would not back down from implementing the moratorium if they have a legal basis for it,” he said.

In July 2010, the provincial government of South Cotabato banned the use of the open-pit mining method as part of the environment code passed by the provincial board.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has repeatedly vowed to fully implement the ban on open-pit mining, which was the method adopted by SMI for its Tampakan copper-gold project.

Earlier this month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) central office rejected and returned SMI’s application for environment clearance certificate or ECC due to the problems posed by the open-pit ban to its proposed operations, which was projected to begin by 2016. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)