South Cotabato board ‘no longer’ reviewing petition to lift open-pit ban, official says

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 July) — With the new mining policy of the Aquino administration now in place, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato “will no longer act” on the petition to review the open-pit ban, an official said on Tuesday.

The open-pit mining ban was seen as an obstacle to the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines Inc., which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.

On Monday, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, said that Executive Order 79, which President Benigno S. Aquino III signed on July 6, does not invalidate the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato.

“It [open pit ban] remains valid until invalidated by competent authorities,” Paje said in a televised press briefing in Malacanang.

Reacting to the environment’s secretary’s pronouncement, South Cotabato board member Ernesto Catedral 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 in a phone interview.

“It is a legally sound position,” Catedral said of the secretary’s position on the open-pit ban of the province.

Catedral chairs the joint committee on environmental protection and legal matters, where the petition to review the environment code, which contains the prohibition on open pit mining, has been pending.

The petition to review the open-pit mining ban, filed by the Regional Mineral Development Council in September 2010, was mainly anchored on two grounds–that it was contrary to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and to a “great extent” Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

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.

Catedral said it is now up to Sagittarius Mines if they will seek other legal remedies, apparently referring to a court of justice.

He also stressed that the petition to review the open-pit ban, given the new mining policy of the national government, will be put aside also in deference to the past set of Sangguniang Panlalawigan members.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines external communications and media relations manager, earlier said that seeking a legal remedy is not the “immediate preferred option of the company.”

Arnaldo also noted that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942 does not prohibit open-pit mining method.

Paje said that while the open pit ban remains a valid ordinance, the national government will respect the contract of the mining company because it is an existing contract. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)