SoCot governor defends ban on open-pit mining; says review not imminent

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 July) – South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy has insisted that the provincial environment code which bans open pit mining method is consistent with national law which upholds the general welfare of the people.

Pingoy made the statement following the issuance Monday of Executive Order 79 which aims to reconcile national mining policies with local legislations and raise more revenues for the government.

The governor said he believes the presence and planned operation of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), which is inconsistent with the provincial environment code, may have led to the issuance of the executive order.

He maintained the new executive order cannot overturn the provincial environment code without the government and proponents of open-pit mining resorting to legal action.

“I am not against mining but we have a long history of them and they are not among the desirable results we expect,” Pingoy said.

The Xstrata PLC-controlled SMI is holder of the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project which is said to contain the largest untapped copper and gold deposits in Southeast Asia.

On Monday, SMI said in a statement that the executive order “is a positive step towards promoting a responsible mining industry in the Philippines and we welcome the recognition of the need for consistency between national laws and local ordinances.”

SMI also claimed its Tampakan project would “establish a blueprint for modern, large-scale mineral development in the Philippines.”

The company has repeatedly announced it is pouring US$6B in investments for the development of the project.

It is set to start commercial operations by 2016.

But the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) denied its application for an environmental clearance certificate early this year.  The EMB cited the existing provincial environment code in rejecting the application of SMI.

Pingoy said he would like to see how large-scale mining operations leave behind their mining site after the lifespan of their operations.

“I have yet to see what the post-mine would look like under the 1995 Mining Act,” said the governor who recently welcomed officials from Toledo City.

Toledo was once host of Asia’s biggest copper mining operations, the Atlas Consolidated Mining Development Corporation.

Pingoy believed the province can still do without mining.

“South Cotabato is a first class province.  Mining is not an emergency situation.  We can wait five, ten years.  Why can’t SMI wait?” explained the governor who is a medical doctor by profession.

Pingoy said he was assured by Presidential Adviser on Climate Change Nereus Acosta that the national government will respect the autonomy of local government units in dealing with issues that would affect the environment.

Acosta was one of those who crafted the new executive order, Pingoy revealed.

The governor had earlier resisted pressures from the national government to have the controversial provincial environment code repealed.

Early last year, he defied a circular from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources urging the province to lift the ban on open-pit mining.

Pingoy also ruled out an immediate review of the local legislation as the provincial board is still dominated by anti-open pit mining advocates.

The provincial environment code was signed by his predecessor Daisy Avance-Fuentes, now back as a member of the House of Representatives.

The Catholic Church here, led by Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, a staunch critic and opposition to the presence of SMI in the province, hailed the passage of the said ordinance. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews)