SouthCot board stays firm on open-pit mining ban; critics hit approval of SMI’s ECC

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/20 February) – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato rallied behind the provincial environment code that bans open pit mining method as the local Catholic Church urged the public to intensify the opposition to the Tampakan copper-gold project now that it has obtained an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

“The SP of South Cotabato will maintain its stand that the open pit ban provided for in its environment code will remain until a competent court declares it ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority),” Vice Gov. Elmo Tolosa, the provincial board’s presiding officer, told MindaNews Wednesday.

Tolosa added that the board was not surprised that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) eventually granted the ECC permit of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) because they were in favor of the project all along.

Asked if the mining firm will seek the endorsement of the provincial board, Tolosa said: “The environment code provision will stand in the way of any SP endorsement unless the ban on open pit mining is repealed by the SP itself or declared invalid by a court of law.”

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje announced Tuesday that the agency has approved SMI’s ECC, which is one of the requirements before the firm can go on commercial production.

The decision of the DENR, which previously trashed twice the firm’s ECC application, drew uproars among critics of the Tampakan project.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez also on Wednesday rallied the public to strengthen the opposition against the Tampakan copper-gold project.

Gutierrez assailed President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for the issuance by the DENR of the ECC to SMI, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.

“PNoy (Aquino) is no longer believable. He had said that ‘Kayo ang Boss Ko’… it turns out now that’s just a slogan,” the bishop told a local radio station in Ilonggo.

Gutierrez pointed out that last year, the dioceses of Marbel, Kidapawan and Digos submitted 106,000 signatures to the Office of the President to persuade Aquino to thrash the Tampakan project.

The Tampakan project, which straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, is under the jurisdiction of the three dioceses.

If the people are his bosses, Aquino should heed that petition, Gutierrez said.

The cutting of trees in 4,000 hectares, the mining project lying in four major earthquake faults, the dislocation of the indigenous peoples and the disposal of mining wastes were the major reasons the religious leader cited in urging the people to continue opposing the Tampakan project.

Gutierrez also stressed that South Cotabato has an existing ordinance that bans open-pit mining, the method SMI will use in extracting the vast deposits.

Lawyer Mario Maderazo, advocacy and legal officer of the Philippine-Misereor Partnership, Inc., warned that the ECC issuance to SMI would be the start of the “portent of things to come.”

“This clearance is the beginning of wanton environmental destruction and human rights violations in Tampakan,” he said in a statement.

Maderazo cited the disasters in Padcal and Semirara, which have both been given ECCs.

Philex Mining Corp. was fined a billion pesos recently for polluting the Balog Creek in Benguet and the Agno River in Pangasinan August last year, while five workers of Semirara Mining Corp. in Antique were recently killed and another five remained missing after a portion of its open-pit mine collapsed.

“In our view, the project in Tampakan is even more dangerous than those two sites. First, even before the operations begin, human rights violations are already rampant in the area highlighted by a massacre of a mother and her two children October last year,” Maderazo said.

As of 1:25 p.m. Wednesday, SMI has yet to issue a written media statement on its ECC approval. In the past, the mining firm said it will “employ responsible mining practices” to minimize the impact of the project to the environment. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)