Church, environmental groups decry lifting of open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato

Published May 17, 2022, 2:15 PM

by Keith Bacongco

DAVAO CITY – The Catholic Church and environment groups have decried the approval of the ordinance in South Cotabato lifting the controversial ban on open pit mining method in the province.

Residents protest against the proposed open-pit mining in South Cotabato. ( FIle photo courtesy of SAC Marbel)

The move has sparked public outcry on social media following the adoption of the amendment by Sangguniang Panlalawigan without objections on May 16 to amend the 12-year old Environment Code, which had been considered a roadblock to develop the Tampakan gold and copper mining project.

The groups cited the mining’s adverse impact to the environment, agriculture and to the lives of the indigenous peoples.

“It’s a sad and tragic day for South Cotabato,” said Bishop Cerilo Allan Casicas of the Diocese of Marbel in a press conference streamed online hours after the passing of the ordinance.

“The amendment allows all forms of mining, including open-pit, in the province. And the future of the province was decided in less than 15 minutes,” he added.

“Who will benefit from this decision?” What happened to the voice of the people in South Cotabato who had been adamant in their opposition to the proposed open-pit mining?” the bishop asked.

Along with environmental groups, the Diocese of Marbel has been leading the campaign to keep the ban on open pit mining methods in the province since it was enacted.

Last year, the diocese submitted at least 93,000 signatures before the provincial board in an effort to keep the ban on open pit mining.

During the plenary session, board member Hilario De Pedro VI, principal author of the proposal to lift the ban on open-pit mining, moved to amend the environment code and it was seconded by Edgar Sambog, the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative.

Also present were board members Dardanilo Dar, Noel Escobillo, Antonio Fungan, Eamon Gabriel Mati, Henry Ladot, Rolando Malabuyoc, Alyssa Marie Fale, and Rose Grace Achurra.

A video clip is now making rounds in social media showing de Pedro during a campaign sortie at a remote village of Topland in Koronadal City assuring the crowd that he will say “no to open-pit mining.” “Si board member de Pedro, isa lang nga tingog ang akon pamatian, kag ang tingog nga dal-on dira sa Sangunniang Panlalawigan, ang akon nga isinggitan, no to open pit mining kita! (I will listen to the call of the people and it is the call of the people that I will carry to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and I will say no to open pit mining!)” the board member told the crowd.

The video was posted by a citizen on Facebook a few hours after the amendment of the environment code.

De Pedro, who is also the chair of the committee on environment and natural resources, had sought reelection on May 9 polls but lost.

The amendment would benefit the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) that holds the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) covering at least 23,000 hectares across the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur. But much of the mining tenement is in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

The 25-year contract to mine the area was granted to Australian firm Western Mining Corporation (WMC) in 1995. But the rights had been transferred to SMI in 2001, before it expired in in 2020.

However, reports showed that the mining contract had been extended in 2016 for 12 years.

We are doomed “We are doomed,” said Chinkie Golle, a resident of South Cotabato and a volunteer campaigner of the Diocese of Marbel.

Golled urged her fellow residents not to stop the fight for their home province as well as for the future generations.

“For years, the province of South Cotabato had served as a model for other local government units that conserve the environment as integral to development. It is tragic that today the provision banning open-pit mining in their landmark ordinance has been lifted,” said Maya Quirino, Advocacy Coordinator of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center.

The LRC, Quirino added, is worried about the negative impacts of this project in the decades to come. Scientists project droughts in Mindanao because of climate change and this mining project puts local water supply to communities and for agricultural livelihoods in grave danger.

Amid this development, environment group Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability executive director Atty. Mark Peñalver has vowed that they will continue to rally behind the people of South Cotabato to uphold the ban on open pit mining.

“As a representative of the people, they shouldn’t have railroaded the approval of the proposed amendments. At best, they should have explained their stand. They owe it to the people who elected them to represent their interest in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan,” said Peñalver.

Casicas said that the Diocese of Marbel has appealed to Governor Reynaldo Tamayo to listen to the voice of the people by vetoing the amendments to the Environment Code.