Endorsement for Tampakan project under new SouthCot execs unlikely

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/20 May)— The ban on open pit mining in South Cotabato will remain a major stumbling block to the effort of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) to operate the Tampakan project with the election of the new set of provincial officials during the May 13 polls.

This after Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes (second district), who has been elected as the new governor, vowed to implement the ban on open-pit mining in the next three years, or until 2016.

It was Fuentes who signed the controversial Environment Code that bans open-pit mining before stepping down as governor in 2010 after completing three straight terms.

Fuentes (Nationalist People’s Coalition) defeated incumbent Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. (United Nationalist Alliance) on Monday’s elections on a vote of 117,855 and 111,214, respectively, or a margin of 6,641 votes.

“I will implement the provisions of the Environment Code that bans open-pit mining,” Fuentes said, noting she was the one who signed the controversial measure.

During Pingoy’s term, he implemented the open-pit ban signed by Fuentes, despite lobbying from the company and pro-mining groups for him to disregard the prohibition.

The pro-mining groups failed to have the open-pit ban lifted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or provincial board so far.

The new set of elected officials will take over on June 30, 2013.

During the campaign period, Fuentes and Pingoy also vowed to ensure that the ban on open-pit mining will stay.

Efforts of SMI to develop the Tampakan copper, touted as the largest known undeveloped copper reserve in Southeast Asia, has been hobbled by the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato.

In December last year, the company announced that it was moving the start of commercial operation from 2016 to 2019. Among the major challenges the company cited facing its operation was the open-pit ban in South Cotabato.

Last February, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted SMI an environmental compliance certificate (ECC), after rejecting it twice last year on the ground of the open-pit mining prohibition of South Cotabato.

As set by the ECC, an endorsement from the provincial government is among the other requirements needed by the firm before it can proceed to commercial production.

MindaNews contacted SMI spokesman John Arnaldo for comments on the company’s view on the matter, given the new set of officials, at 9:30 a.m. Monday but he asked for half an hour to issue a statement.

Arnaldo got back with an emailed statement at 1:19 p.m., “congratulating Fuentes on her successful election as the new South Cotabato Provincial Governor.”

“With the passage of the Aquino Administration’s National Mining Policy and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum directing that all local legislations be consistent with the national mining law, we hope that through continued dialogue with incoming Governor Fuentes and the rest of the South Cotabato provincial government officials, there will be a timely resolution to the open-pit ban in the South Cotabato Environment Code,” he said.

“We have worked with Congressman (sic) Fuentes in a number of development programs in South Cotabato, and we will continue to engage with her and the rest of the provincial government officials as their local stakeholder and development partner,” Arnaldo said.

As to the new set of composition of the provincial board, five party mates each of Fuentes and Pingoy won seats.

The winning bets were Gly Mariano Trabado (NPC), Romeo Tamayo (NPC) and Jobee Baitus (UNA) for the first district, and Vicente de Jesus (NPC), Ester Catorce (UNA), Grace Subere-Albios (NPC), Ervin Luntao (UNA), Agustin Demaala (NPC), Romulo Solivio (UNA) and Samuel Ladot (UNA) for the second district.

The vice governor-elect is Cecile Diel, an ally of Pingoy, who is the board’s presiding officer and could be the vote that could break any tie.

An incumbent board member, Diel, however vowed to protect the environment code as part of her platform of governance during the campaign period.

Fuentes said that while five of her party mates won seats to the provincial board, the ex-officio members for the leagues of councilors, barangay captains and the Sangguniang Kabataan are also her allies.

Basically, we have the numbers at the provincial board, she said.

In Tampakan town, reelectionist Mayor Leonardo Escobillo, a staunch supporter of the mining project of SMI, won as well as majority of his party mates in the Sangguniang Bayan. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)