SouthCot to review open-pit mining ban in environment code

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 3 Dec) – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato will review next year the province’s environment code in a bid to “enhance and amend” some of its provisions, including the controversial ban on open-pit mining.

South Cotabato Vice Gov. Cecile Diel said Tuesday they have started initial discussions and consultations regarding the code’s planned review, which will mainly focus on “answering some legal questions” that hounded it since it was enacted three years ago.

She was referring to Section 22, Paragraph b of Ordinance No. 4 or the Provincial Environment Code that sets the ban on the use of the open-pit mining method in any part of the province’s 10 towns and lone city.

The national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had contested such provision, citing it contravenes with Republic Act 7492 or the Philippine Mining Act that allows open-pit mining.

“We need to revisit and refine the code to answer its legal questions. There’s the pending question of ultra vires or whether we had gone beyond our authority in passing the code that must be settled once and for all,” Diel said in a media forum.

The vice governor said the code’s critics had raised jurisprudence and even court decisions that questioned the legality of the open-pit ban.

She said there were also the Supreme Court principle that sets the capacity or the power of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to legislate vis-à-vis a national law or a policy.

“We should have decided on these matters before and answered all issues that were raised squarely,” Diel said.

Aside from the open-pit ban provision, the official said the review will cover several other provisions that need to be updated and enhanced.

She specifically noted portions of the code that dwell on the measures addressing concerns on climate change and related issues.

“We should refine our policy on environmental protection and include in the code some measures that will address the foreseen effects of climate change in the province,” she said.

As to the code’s mandatory review provision after five years of implementation, Diel said such is not absolute based on the principle of lawmaking that legislative bodies cannot pass laws that cannot be repealed.

She pointed out that laws are dynamic in nature and no timetable should be set with regards to its updating or fine-tuning.

“The Constitution has even set provisions on how it can be amended so that principle should apply to local ordinances as well,” she said.

The national government, business groups and several government and non-government agencies had opposed the inclusion of the ban in the environment code and called for its immediate review and amendment.

The previous set of Sangguniang Panlalawigan or provincial board members initiated in 2011 an initial review of the code but eventually called it off late 2012.

Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), which has been working on large-scale copper and gold mining project in the hinterlands of Tampakan town in South Cotabato, had signified to utilize the open-pit method for its US$5.9-billion venture.

In August, SMI’s parent firm Glencore Xstrata announced a major downsizing of its spending and overall operations, leading to the reduction of 85 percent of its work force or equivalent to 920 jobs.

In December last year, the company announced that it was moving the target date to start its commercial operations by three years or to 2019 due to problems with regulatory and community approvals, among them the open-pit mining ban.