KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 22 April) — The local Catholic Church assailed Thursday, Earth Day, the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to lift the moratorium on new mining contracts, as it vowed to continue the opposition against the controversial Tampakan project, the largest known untapped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia.
Bishop Cerilo Casicas, of the Diocese of Marbel, expressed dismay over Duterte’s issuance of Executive Order (EO) 130, which amended EO 79, a measure issued by former President Benigno Aquino in 2012 disallowing the granting of new mining permits, including mineral agreement or financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA).
“This is a short-sighted solution,” the prelate said, noting that EO 130 was tweaked in favor of the economy rather than the environment.
The diocese hosts the controversial $5.9 billion Tampakan project, which Casicas reiterated must not be allowed to proceed due to its potential adverse impact to the environment and people’s health.
Besides lifting the moratorium on new mining agreements, EO 130, issued last week, also stated that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can undertake a review of existing mining contracts and agreements for possible renegotiation of the terms and conditions of the same, which shall in all cases be mutually acceptable to the government and the mining contractor.
Casicas noted that the issuance of EO 130 should not undermine the ban on open-pit mining imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato, which was contained in its environment code.
“We should assert our rights at the local level if this conflicts with the national government. That’s the role of the environment code. We should not be a slave or kowtow to the national government at all times,” he said in a press conference here.
Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), developer of the Tampakan project, plans to employ open-pit mining in extracting the estimated 15 million tons of copper and 498 million grams of gold lying near the surface of the earth.
The ban on open-pit mining approved in 2010, which pro-mining supporters wanted revoked, has become a stumbling block for the company to proceed to commercial stage, besides the security threats posed by the New People’s Army rebels, who in New Year’s Day 2008 stormed and burned the firm’s base camp in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan town.
Lawyer Noel Ben, director of the Notre Dame of Marbel University’s (NDMU) Legal Aide and Community Extension Services, said Duterte’s EO 130 can be challenged in court.
While the President has the constitutional right to issue executive orders as part of his executive powers, the same can be challenged before the court if it becomes contrary to the general welfare of the public, said Ben, also the representative of the NDMU- Marist Hope Center for Justice and Good Governance.
Challenging EO 130 is a bold step that will require conscientious consultations among the various diocesan stakeholders, Noel said.
In due time, he added they will let the public know if they will challenge the issuance of EO 130 before the court.
According to Noel, EO 130 is focused more on the economy than the environment, noting that there is a need to strike a balance between the two.
Restore, not destroy Mother Earth
In celebration of the Earth Day, themed “Restoring our Earth,” Bishop Casicas challenged each one to do their part “in restoring, not destroying our Mother Earth, which nurtures us – our life, health and livelihood.
“A healthy Earth is not an option, it is a necessity,” he said in his prepared opening remarks for the Earth Day press conference.
Casicas reiterated the diocese’s unwavering support for the open-pit mining ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government.
“To be sure, there have been a plethora of studies about the ill impacts of open-pit mining on people’s health and the environment, which far outweigh whatever economic benefits open-pit mining claims to provide,” he stressed.
The Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) of Tampakan town and some local indigenous peoples leaders have sought the lifting of the open-pit mining ban before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or the provincial board.
Casicas said the whole Diocese of Marbel – priests and religious in the 29 parishes, together with the lay faithful and people of goodwill, “continue to trust that the provincial board members are on the side of the environment and the people of South Cotabato.”
SMI has not responded to requests for comments.
But the company had asserted that the open-pit mining method does not contravene Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
The Tampakan project has the potential of yielding per annum an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate within the 17-year-life of the mine.
If developed, the Tampakan project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)