South Cot execs to national gov’t: See you in court

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/11 September)—South Cotabato officials are unfazed by the prospects of facing court charges involving its controversial open-pit mining ban.

Separately speaking over a local radio station here Tuesday, Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. and Vice Gov. Elmo B. Tolosa said the provincial government is ready to face a legal battle should the national government instigate a case.

“That’s the right forum that can properly decide this once and for all,” said Pingoy, referring to the provincial open-pit ban that pro-mining groups argued contradicts the Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942.

Should a case be lodged by the national government, the governor said the matter would be referred to the provincial legal office for the defense of the ordinance, which poses an obstacle to the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Pingoy said the provincial government has been consistent in its stand that an LGU has the power to put in place environmental protective measures as warranted by the Local Government Code.

The governor said the possible legal confrontation between the national government and the provincial government could have been avoided if only the former consulted the latter before the issuance of the mining contract to the proponent.

Pingoy has maintained that the open-pit ban will be implemented in the province until a court decides against it.

Tolosa said the Sangguniang Panlalawigan has been anticipating that the open-pit ban will be legally challenged.

“We welcome it [court case] although there could be some ways to resolve this problem,” he said.

On top of the list to resolve the issue is for Sagittarius Mines to abandon the open-pit method and employ other means of mining, Tolosa, the provincial board’s presiding officer, said.

He stressed that the province did not ban mining but only the open-pit method of extraction.

Sagittarius Mines has said the safest and most economical way to extract the minerals is through open-pit mining due to the shallow location of the deposits.

Tolosa also cited the Local Government Code in asserting that the province’s open-pit ban has significant legal basis.

The possible filing of cases against LGUs with conflicting ordinances against the mining act reportedly arose during the consultation last week in Manila conducted by the Mines Industry Coordinating Council, which is drafting the implementing rules and regulations for the new mining policy issued through Executive Order 79 last July.

Sought for confirmation on Tuesday, Rocky Dimaculangan, vice president for communications of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said he was not present in that meeting.

However, he added that government should take the lead in filing cases against LGUs that have conflicting ordinances with the national mining law.

“For us as contractors of mining agreements, the government should do its part so that the contracts could push ahead,” Dimaculangan said on the phone, adding that nothing in the constitution bans open-pit mining.

In July, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, said that EO 79, which President Benigno C. 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. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)