Court rejects petition to revoke South Cotabato’s ban on open-pit mining

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 17 October) — Days after the revival of the Tampakan Forum, an umbrella organization opposing the controversial Tampakan copper-gold project pursued by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), the group scored a victory after a local court here dismissed a petition by pro-mining groups to revoke the ban on open-pit mining which South Cotabato’s Environment Code imposed since 2010.

Judge Vicente Peńa, acting presiding judge of Regional Trial Court 11th Judicial Region Branch 24, denied last Monday, 12 October, the petition for declaratory relief and injunction filed against Section 22 (b) of the Environment Code of South Cotabato, which prohibits open-pit mining method in the province.

The controversial Tampakan project is pushing for an open-pit mining. South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in 2010. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

In a 31-page promulgation, a copy of which was obtained by MindaNews on Friday, Peńa wrote: Section 22 (b), which bans  open-pit mining in the province of South Cotabato is not invalid, but rather legal and consistent with DAO (Department Administrative Order) 2017-10, the Local Government Code (of the Philippines) and above all the Constitution.”

The late former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez issued DAO 2017-10 entitled “Banning the Open-pit Method of Mining for Copper, Gold, Silver and Complex Ores in the Country.”

Pena also denied the petitioners’ prayer for issuance of final injunction permanently enjoining the respondent provincial government of South Cotabato or any other person or agency acting under its authority or discretion, considering the validity of the assailed provision or Section 22 (b).

The petitioners are expected to appeal the decision of the local court.

The petition was filed on January 25, 2019 by the B’laan indigenous cultural communities consisting of the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Bongmal “represented by the” Bongmal Tribal Council, IPs of Danlag “represented by the” Danlag Tribal Council, , IPs of Fulo Bato “represented by the” Fulo Bato Tribal Council, and IPs of CADT-26 represented by the Kiblawan CADT-26, SouthCot Mining Corp. and the Tampakan Mining Corp.

The Southcot Mining and Tampakan Mining are collectively known as the Tampakan Group of Companies, to which the Tampakan mining claim was assigned by the government during the initial discovery of the minefield in the  mid-1980s.

Peńas decision was penned three days after the revival of the Tampakan Forum, which is composed of the local Catholic church and national and international organizations, to ignite a “systematic and sustained” opposition against the Tampakan project, the largest untapped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia.

SMI, developer of the US$5.9 billion Tampakan project, said in an earlier study that the most feasible way to extract the deposits is through the open-pit mining method.

Fr. Jerome Millan, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel and one of those behind the revival of the Tampakan Forum, lauded the court’s decision.

“This court ruling is an answered prayer. The decision comes at a propitious time when our natural resources need the most protection, when the natural environment is threatened by human actions,” he said in a statement.

Touted as Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper and gold minefield, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per annum in the 17-year-life of the mine.

The Tampakan project straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, where the bulk of the deposits is lying, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.

Maya Quirino, advocacy coordinator of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines, said the local court’s decision affirms the autonomy of local governments over the stewardship and protection of the environment as enshrined in the law. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)