GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 February) – The provincial government of South Cotabato has created a special body that will regularly look into the compliance of small-scale mining operations and other industries in the province to local and national environmental laws and regulations.
In an executive order, South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. directed the activation of the provincial environmental impact assessment (EIA) multisectoral monitoring team in a bid to ensure the strict enforcement of the province’s Environment Code and other existing environmental policies.
The EIA multisectoral monitoring team will mainly function as a “law enforcement” mechanism as provided for under Section 112 of Ordinance No. 4 or the Provincial Environment Code, he said.
Under Executive Order No. 4, which was issued by the governor last Jan. 23, the team will be headed by the chair of the provincial board’s environment committee.
It will also involve the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the Environmental Management Bureau, city and municipal environment and natural resources offices, academe, non-government or social development organizations and industry stakeholders.
Pingoy said they pushed for the activation of the monitoring team to keep an eye on the ongoing small-scale mining operations in the province, which is centered in the gold rush village of Kematu and Desawo in T’boli town.
“The team will regularly monitor and inspect the small-scale mining operations and other local industries as well as check whether their operations pose any environmental harm and they have properly complied with the standard safety and environmental regulations,” he said.
Around 300 gold mine tunnels are situated in the two villages, portions of which had been declared as “minahang bayan” or people’s mining sites.
The provincial government closed down the area’s mine tunnels last year due to licensing, safety and environmental policy violations but it later allowed some of them to reopen following the compliance of mine operators to some regulations.
The governor said they included the industry stakeholders to the team to immediately address concerns of the affected industries within its level.
He cited the case of the small-scale mining operations wherein operators who would be part of the team may immediately discuss and take appropriate actions on problems or concerns that affect their
“We’re mainly making everyone involved to ensure that the environmental catastrophes that happened in other areas will not be repeated in the province,” the governor said.
Siegfred Flaviano, acting PEMO chief, said his office already sent notices to the selected members of the team for their initial meeting set within this month.
He said they also directed the environment offices of the province’s 10 towns and lone city to submit a list of industries, specifically those considered critical, that are situated within their areas.
“The team has visitorial powers or it can visit and inspect our industries at any given time and we may participate in environmental law enforcement activities,” he said.
Flaviano added that the team may also submit recommendations to the governor and other concerned government agencies for the imposition of penalties and sanctions to violators of various environmental laws and regulations. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)