Critics rejoice as Sagittarius Mines mulls options after ECC rejection

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/05 June) — At least for now, filing a case in court “is not an option” for foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. with the thrashing of its appeal for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to reconsider its application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

“As much as the legal process is an option, it is not our preferred option,” John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines external communications and media relations manager, said in an e-mailed statement Monday night.

He stressed the company has yet to get the official communication from the DENR.

Arnaldo did not give a categorical answer when pressed what remedies the company is planning to undertake.

The company’s “most available remedy under the law” would be to elevate its plea to Malacañang, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo L. Jasareno said earlier.

The decision, involving an issue said to threaten mining investments in the resource-rich Philippines, comes as the Aquino administration continues to tweak planned mining policy changes that will include the way revenues are shared.

Jasareno said: “[The rejection was made] through the order dated May 22, 2012,” adding that this was signed by Anselmo C. Abungan, the Environment department’s assistant secretary for legal affairs.

”The decision was still based on the open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato, as well as some legal issues,” he explained, declining to elaborate.

Critics of the Tampakan copper-gold project on Tuesday hailed the rejection of the appeal as “a take two whammy” for Sagittarius Mines.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said the fresh debacle suffered by Sagittarius Mines should “serve as warning to its investors,” apparently referring to the uncertainly faced by the Tampakan project.

“We’re happy with the action taken by the DENR,” Pamplona said.

Once again, the environment code of South Cotabato that bans open-pit mining stood out as a major reason for the denial of SMI’s appeal for its rejected ECC application, he noted.

Pamplona reiterated the need for a stay of the open-pit mining ban, which four Catholic bishops voiced out some months back.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel, Bishop Guillermo Afable of the Diocese of Digos and Bishop Romulo dela Cruz of the Diocese of Kidapawan have petitioned the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato to refrain from amending the open pit mining ban contained in its environment code.

The bishops filed their petition to the SP with the attached signatures of about 30,000 residents from the four dioceses to maintain the prohibition on open-pit mining.

For his part, Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa, SP presiding officer, lauded the DENR for denying the appeal of Sagittarius Mines.

“The SP and the people of South Cotabato are elated with the turn of events. The DENR keeps on surprising us with their decisions,” he told MindaNews.

Tolosa stressed the rejection of the appeal “indicates that the arguments of the provincial government on the primacy of local autonomy have been valid along the way despite opinions to the contrary.”  (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)