South Cotabato bans open pit miningBy Edwin Espejo Jun 11, 2010 1:48PM UTC
In historic and unprecedented move, the provincial government of South Cotabato on Wednesday passed an ordinance that scored a victory for environmentalists and the Catholic Church here who have been opposing the mining operations of Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI).
By a vote of nine voting to ban open pit mining against a lone opposition with two abstentions, the provincial government effectively threatens the planned commercial production of copper and gold ores in the town of Tampakan in South Cotabato where SMI owns a multi-billion dollar mining project.
South Cotabato Vice Gov. Eliordo Ogena said the Provincial Environment Code will be forwarded to Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes next week for signing.
Gov. Fuentes said she will not veto the ordinance.
She told local journalists that she will sign the ordinance before she leaves office on June 30.
Fuentes is serving her last term and will join the House of Representative after her win in the recent election.
“The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) reflects the voice of the people, and they voted (by) landslide to approve the environment code,” she said.
The Church here immediately welcomed the passage of the ordinance.
Social Action director Fr. Romeo Catedral said it was “divine intervention.”
The Tampakan Copper and gold Project is the largest untapped copper deposit in Southeast Asia with ore reserves pegged at 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.
SMI, which owns the project, is reportedly investing US$ 5.2 billion to extract world-class copper and gold ore in the quad boundary towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Malungon in Sarangani.
Xstrata Plc, the Swiss-based fourth largest producer of copper in the world, controls 62.5 percent of SMI with the rest owned by Australia-based Indophil Resources NL.
Indophil Resources is poised to sell its stakes at SMI to Zijin Mining Group of China.
SMI said it is unperturbed over the passage of the ordinance.
“We have always respected the views and concerns of our stakeholders and we will continue to engage in open dialogue to listen to them,” SMI corporate communications head John Arnaldo said.
Arnaldo was earlier quoted as saying the local ordinance cannot supersede a national law.
The Philippine Mining Act does not prohibit the use of open-pit method in extracting mines in the country.
The South Cotabaot Provincial Environment Code is said to be the first of its kind in the country that bans open pit mining.
Nelia Halcon of the Chamber of Mines in the Philippines said they have yet to see the whole text of the environment code passed by the South Cotabato provincial board.
But offhand, she said the local ordinance runs contrary to the national law which “does not prohibit open pit mining.”
“We understand that based on the feasibility study of the company (SMI), open pit mining is the most practical way of extracting the ores,” she said.
She added that the Chamber will take appropriate actions as soon as they have studied the full content of the code.