Veto or not: South Cotabato gov says Tampakan project can proceed

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 01 June) – The large-scale $5.9-billion Tampakan mining project can still proceed whether South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. will veto or not the measure removing the controversial ban on open-pit mining in the province.

Anti-open pit mining advocates led by the local Catholic Church hold a prayer march rally in the streets of Koronadal City on Wednesday (1 June 2022). MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

This was the pronouncement of Tamayo on Wednesday, two days before the end of the 15-day period for him to act on the move of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan amending the environment code that removed the prohibition on open-pit mining in the province. The measure was submitted to the Office of the Governor on May 20.

“With or without a veto, their [large scale] mining operation can proceed because the local government is not the one giving them the permit. They have obtained a permit from the national government,” Tamayo told reporters inside the capitol after addressing the thousands of anti-open pit mining protesters in front of the provincial government compound.

The governor also noted that a national law supersedes local legislation, apparently referring to Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that allows open-pit mining method.

In the last 12 years, the landmark environment code of South Cotabato prohibits open-pit mining across the province. On May 16, exactly a week after the May 9 national and local elections, majority of the board members approved the amendment of the environment code that lifts the ban on open-pit mining.

Supporters of the Tampakan mining project gather outside the provincial capitol to ask Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. not to veto the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining in the province. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The ban on open-pit mining hurdled the development of the Tampakan project, touted as the largest untapped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia and among the biggest of its kind in the world.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), developer of the Tampakan project, said the most viable way to extract the massive deposits is through open-pit mining due to the shallow location of the minerals.

Roy Antonio, SMI corporate affairs manager, joined those who supported the Tampakan project. He, however, declined to comment on the lifting of the prohibition on open-pit mining.

The removal of the open-pit mining ban stirred widespread outrage within and outside South Cotabato. Those who opposed open-pit mining, led by the local Catholic church, appealed to Tamayo to veto the measure.

On Wednesday, pro and anti-mining supporters stood a few meters away from each other in front of the provincial capitol, separated by policemen with riot shields, to let the governor hear their positions.

Anti-riot policemen stand guard in the center of the anti- and pro-open-pit mining supporters outside the provincial capitol. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Fortunately, the two sides did not clash. The anti-open pit mining supporters conducted a prayer march in the major streets of this city before converging in front of the provincial capitol, shocked to see that pro-open pit mining supporters occupied the venue. The antis applied for a rally permit in front of the capitol while the pros were supposed to have their activity at the Rizal Park, which is one block from each other.

Tamayo, who came out from the compound of the capitol around noontime with the pro-mining supporters dispersing, said he would decide “based on what’s good for the province.”

Talking to reporters later, Tamayo said the rallies of the pro- and anti-open pit mining advocates “will not give weight on his decision.”

Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. addresses the anti-open pit mining advocates. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

According to the governor, he will use his “little negotiating power,” should SMI proceed to commercial production, to push the company to put up a private air and water quality laboratory, and make the company ensure enough water supply for the irrigation system and that potable water supply will not be contaminated by hazardous mining by-products.

He said he would let the public know his decision this “Friday or Saturday.”

Addressing the crowd, Bishop Cerilo Casicas, of the Diocese of Marbel, appealed to Tamayo to veto the measure. This was the second time that the diocese held an activity in front of the capitol to urge the governor to veto the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining.

“The Sangguniang Panlalawigan slapped us in the face when it lifted the ban on open-pit mining. We hope the governor will not do the same to us and listen to the voice of the majority of the people of South Cotabato, who are against the removal of the prohibition on open-pit mining,” the prelate said.

Anti- and pro-open-pit mining supporters gather at the same time in front of the provincial capitol. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Dalena Samling, tribal chieftain of the Danlag Tribal Council in Tampakan town supportive of the mining project of SMI, said they were glad that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan lifted the ban on open-pit mining.

“We have been waiting for that. We hope the governor will not veto it so that there will be no more obstacles for the Tampakan project,” she said.

Samling said the Tampakan project will bail tribal communities in the mining tenement from the quagmire of poverty once it goes full blast operations. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)