SP studying proposal to declare Tampakan a protected watershed

BANGA, South Cotabato—The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato is studying the proposal of the local Catholic Church to declare the mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed, a senior official said on Saturday.

Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa confirmed the provincial board has received the letter of Fr. Gillarme Joy Pelino, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel, asking to declare the mineral-rich mountains of Tampakan as a protected watershed.

“We have discussed the proposal and came to an agreement that it should be studied carefully,” Tolosa told MindaNews at the sidelines of a tree planting activity here.

Once the Tampakan mountains will be declared a protected watershed, any forms of mining and other environmentally-destructive activities will eventually be banned in the area.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc., which is backed by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper, has been pursuing the Tampakan project, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

But the bid to bring it on commercial stream suffered a major blow early this month after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources rejected its application for an environmental compliance certificate.

An ECC is one of the requirements before a mining venture is allowed to proceed to commercial phase.

The denial of Sagittarius Mines’ ECC was due to the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato.

“We are returning herewith the application documents with instruction to deny the same, without prejudice to resubmission, until the issues and concern on the use of open-pit mining method shall have been clarified and resolved by the company[SMI] with the provincial government of South Cotabato,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said in a memorandum dated last January 3.

With the ECC rejection, SAC’s Peliño urged the board members to continue protecting and upholding the environment code and pass an ordinance for the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed area.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez separately wrote South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr to facilitate the declaration of the mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed area and to stand firm in banning open-pit mining method in the province.

“Do not be afraid. We are strongly behind you. We have these resources: enlightened voters and the praying nuns [namely] the Trappistines, Poor Clares and Passionists,” the bishop said in his letter.

Board members Jose Madanguit, vice chairman of the environmental protection committee, said he favors the declaration of Tampakan as a protected watershed.

“If that will happen, mining will be disallowed there,” he said in a radio interview.

Madanguit was chairperson of the committee on environmental protection of the previous SP that approved the environmental code that bans open-pit mining method in the province.

But as a whole, the SP has no common stand yet as to the request of the religious leaders to declare to mountains in Tampakan as a protected watershed area, Vice Gov. Tolosa reiterated. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)