GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Groups in favor and opposed to the South Cotabato provincial board’s move to lift the ban on open-pit mining in the province staged simultaneous rallies near the capitol in Koronadal City on Wednesday, June 1.
Despite the opposition to the May 16 amendment to the province’s 2010 South Cotabato Environment Code led by Marbel Catholic Bishop Cerilo Casicas, Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said that even if he rejects the amended provincial law, the local legislature would likely override his veto.
Tamayo’s pronouncement was seen to mean that there was no stopping the controversial multi-billion-dollar Tampakan copper-gold mining project from pushing through.
The amendment, in effect, rid the 12-year-old local environment code of provisions that outlawed open-pit mining in South Cotabato. The ban held at bay for 12 years the planned mining operation of the Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI).
SMI, which holds the concession to the vast mining deposit in the mountains of Tampakan, intends to extract the mineral deposits using the open-pit mining method.
For the second time in two weeks, protesters led by Casicas took to the streets again on Wednesday to pressure the provincial capitol to keep the ban. They called on Tamayo to veto the amendment.
Many of the protesters came from various towns in South Cotabato and nearby Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, and Sarangani – provinces that would be affected if the Tampakan project pushes through.
“Listen to the clamor of the majority,” Casicas told the capitol.
The bishop said the amendment was “a slap on the faces of South Cotabato residents.”
But a group in favor of lifting the ban also staged a rally as a show of force. Many of them are members of indigenous Blaan communities from Tampakan town.
The pro-mining demonstrators urged Tamayo to just allow the amendment to take effect.
Emerging from his office, Tamayo talked to the protesters in front of the capitol and assured them that he would decide what he thinks would be good for the province. He has until June 3 to act on the amendment.
Tamayo said the rallies would not influence his decision which would be announced to the public this week, but also indicated that a veto would be no use.
“A veto at this time is of no use because the board will override it,” he said.
It was unclear why Tamayo was certain that the provincial board would override a veto.
Later, he said, “Madayon sa madayon (It will push through),” referring to open-pit mining operations.
Tamayo said this was because the national government, and not the capitol, issues the large-scale mining permits.
He also said a national law supersedes a local ordinance, and those opposed to mining should have made known their opposition long before September 2021.
At that time, he explained, the national government lifted the nationwide open-pit ban imposed when the late Gina Lopez was the environment secretary.
“At kung ayaw nila ng mina, huwag sila gumamit ng baso o magsuot ng relo (If they don’t like mining, then they should not use glasses or wear wristwatches),” Tamayo said. – Rappler.com
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