March 24, 2022
MANILA — South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. has endorsed a proposal to keep the provincial government’s ban on open-pit mining amid current moves to reverse it.
The now 12-year-old policy stands in the way of the $5.9-billion Tampakan mining project which seeks to tap into the largest undeveloped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia.
Tamayo, in a March 10 letter, endorsed a resolution of the Provincial Development Council (PDC) favoring the retention of the open-pit mining ban to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board), which is hearing petitions to have the controversial policy lifted.
Tamayo chairs the PDC, which is composed of mayors, members of the House of Representatives, and nongovernment organizations in the province.
The open-pit mining ban is contained in the Provincial Environment Code approved in 2010, erecting a policy roadblock to the operation of the Tampakan mining tenement covering some 10,000 hectares across the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur. Much of the mining extraction activities, however, are in South Cotabato.
The 25-year contract to mine the area was granted on March 22, 1995, to Australian firm Western Mining Corp. (WMC). The rights, however, had been transferred to Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in 2001.The 1995 contract, which expired on March 21, 2020, was extended in 2016 by another 12 years. Under the law, the project can still be granted another 25-year term.
The move to have the policy lifted by the provincial legislature follows the recent decision by a local court upholding the legality of the environment code provision.
A similar resolution was also passed by other multisectoral governance bodies in the province.
“May this request warrant the preferential attention of this honorable body,” Tamayo said in his letter to the provincial board.
Rene Pamplona, a resident of South Cotabato and chair of Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), welcomed Tamayo’s endorsement of the PDC resolution to the provincial board.
“This is a welcome move as it represents the sentiments of the stakeholders in the province. We commend the provincial government for heeding the demands of the residents of South Cotabato.
We have been anxious that by reviewing the ban on open-pit mining, the provincial government would cave in to a corporate lobby. We are happy it stood with the people,” Pamplona said in a statement.
“We call on the Sanggunian Panlalawigan of South Cotabato to listen to the clamor of the people as represented by the PDC. As officials directly elected by the people, the [board] must heed the call to uphold the ban on open-pit mining in the province,” said Jaybee Garganera, ATM national coordinator.
Pamplona said that “the ban on open-pit mining is for the protection and for the general welfare of the people of South Cotabato.”
At least 93,453 signatures opposing the lifting of the open-pit mining method have been submitted to the provincial board. The signature campaign was led by the local Catholic Church.
Most viable way
SMI earlier revealed in a study that the most viable way to extract the minerals is through open-pit mining.
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.
SMI firm has repeatedly vowed to employ “responsible mining” in the Tampakan project.
The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), which campaigned for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995, stressed that “only the ban stands in the way of the Tampakan project, one of the largest open-pit projects in Asia that residents fear will destroy the environment.”
“This resolution is a good sign that the provincial government itself will eventually uphold the open-pit ban enshrined in the landmark environmental code of South Cotabato,” said Maya Quirino, the LRC advocacy coordinator.