18 Mindanao bishops support ban on open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 July) — Eighteen of the 22 bishops in Mindanao have agreed on an eight-point position on mining, which includes banning the open-pit method, Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel said.

In a statement sent over the weekend, Gutierrez said the Catholic Bishops’Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Plenary Assembly approved on July 8 the request of the 18 bishops from Mindanao to endorse to President Benigno Simeon Aquino an eight-point position, among them the ban on open pit mining and  probation of mining in forests and watersheds.

The bishops also said mining should be banned in areas where there are major faults; that it should not be permitted near agricultural lands to ensure food security and that  Free Prior and Informed Consent of the people “must be truthfully given by people in mining-affected areas.”

“In case mining is allowed in ancestral domain, mining corporations shall respect human rights, culture and customary laws of the indigenous people,” the bishops said.

The bishops said they want a ban on open pit mining and other “methods of mining destructive of the environment.”

Mining, they added, should benefit “everyone, not only the stockholders and some local government officials.”

Forests and watersheds are among the areas closed to mining, according to Section 19 of  RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995. Also closed to mining, according to the same section, are “plantations or valuable crops, ‘except upon written consent of the government agency or private entity concerned.’”

Executive Order 79, which contains the new mining policy of the Aquino administration lists additional areas closed to mining applications, in addition to those listed in  Section 19.

The EO prohibits mining in  “prime agricultural lands, in addition to lands covered by RA No. 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, as amended, including plantations and areas devoted to valuable crops, and strategic agriculture” and fisheries development zones and fish refuge and sanctuaries declared as such by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.”

Also closed to mining are tourism development areas, as identified in the National Tourism Development Plan; and, “other critical areas, island ecosystems, and impact areas of mining as determined by current and existing mapping technologies, that the DENR may hereafter identify pursuant to existing laws, rules, and regulations, such as, but not limited to, the NIPAS Act.

E0 79 was signed by the President on July 6 but  released to the public only on July 9, a day after the bishops’ gathering.

AMMB endorsed

Gutierrez did not name the 18 bishops who agreed on the eight points and the four others who did not endorse it.

An  archdiocesan administrator in Mindanao also supported the bishops’ stand, he added.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, national director of the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, presented to the bishops during the CBCP’s 105th Plenary Assembly on July 8 a primer on the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB).

Gutierrez said that after Pabillo’s explanation, the endorsement form in support of the AMMB was circulated among the bishops for their signature and “72 bishops endorsed the AMMB.”

“Let us heed the call of the bishops to protect the integrity of God’s creation and for our sake and for the sake of the future generations,” Gutierrez urged.

The AMMB,  is a consolidated version of House Bills 206, 3763, 4315 and several mining-related measures.

The CBCP had issued statements in 1998 and 2006 urging the repeal of the 1995 Mining Act

In January, participants to the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao passed  the Mindanao Declaration Defending the Dignity of Life, Securing our Future, called for the repeal of  RA 7942 and called for the enactment of the AMMB.

Ban on open pit mining

Section 12 of  EO 79 provides that local government units “shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations.”

But Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said EO 79 did not invalidate the open-pit ban of South Cotabato.

“It is valid unless invalidated by competent authorities,”Paje said.

South Cotabato passed in June 2010 its Environment Code banning open pit mining, a method that Sagittarius Mines, Inc. wants to use in its gold-copper project in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Provincial board member Ernesto Catedral, chair of the joint committee on environmental protection and legal matters,  said E0 79 dashed the hopes of those wanting a review of the environment code that bans open-pit mining.

“We’ve been waiting for that new mining policy so we can act on the petition. But from the pronouncement of Secretary Paje, we don’t have a reason to act,” he told MindaNews.

A petition to review the Environment Code, particularly on the ban on open pit mining,  has been pending with Catedral’s committee.

Filed by the Regional Mineral Development Council in September 2010, the petition is anchored on the grounds that the Environment Code is contrary to RA 7942.

Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa said the new mining policy won’t have an effect on the open pit ban of the province.

“We are not banning mining, just the method of extracting the mineral,” he said in a radio interview.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius mines external communications and media relations officer, has repeatedly pointed out that RA 7942 does not prohibit open-pit method.

The company, however, has not filed any legal action in the courts to assert its position. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)