New mining policy considers open-pit ban in South Cotabato valid

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/09 July)—The open-pit ban imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato, which poses an obstacle to the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines Inc., remains in effect, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said on Monday as he discussed the contents of the government’s new mining policy signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III.

But while the open pit ban is considered valid, the new Executive Order on Mining won’t stop Sagittarius Mines if it wants to proceed because the policy does not repeal existing large-scale mining contracts.

“The EO respects existing contracts and the Tampakan project has an existing contract,” Paje said in a televised press conference over state-owned PTV channel.

Respecting existing mining contracts is a way of the government not to turn off investors in the mining industry, he said.

On the open-pit ban of South Cotabato, Paje said: “It remains valid until invalidated by competent authorities.”

He was apparently referring to the court or the lifting of the provision on open pit ban by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

South Cotabato officials did not immediately respond when sought for reactions.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines external communications and media relations officer, said the company welcomes the signing of the new mining policy by the President.

“We believe this Executive Order is a positive step towards promoting a responsible mining industry in the Philippines and in particular, we welcome the recognition of the need for consistency between national laws and local ordinances,” he said in an emailed statement.

“We look forward to partnering with the national and local governments and our host communities to progress the Tampakan project and achieve our shared goals for southern Mindanao – namely a vibrant, multi-faceted economy that provides sustainable opportunities for all,” he added.

If approved, we believe the Tampakan project would establish a blueprint for modern, large-scale mineral development in the Philippines, Arnaldo said.

The mining executive, however, did not comment on the pronouncement of Paje that the open-pit ban of South Cotabato remains valid.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said the new mining policy would not affect the stance of the diocese against the Tampakan project. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)