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Debate heats up over South Cotabato’s open-pit mining ban after CA ruling

Rommel Rebollido

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Debate heats up over South Cotabato’s open-pit mining ban after CA ruling

South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr.

South Cotabato provincial government

Court of Appeals rules to uphold decision to uphold South Cotabato's open-pit mining ban – but only for small-scale mining

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. announced that the provincial government would no longer appeal a decision made by the Court of Appeals (CA), which upheld a lower court’s ruling that validated the province’s 2010 Environment Code.

Here’s the catch: while the code prohibits open-pit mining, the court decision was limited only to small-scale operations. 

“The CA decided in favor of the Environment Code and we won. Why appeal?” Tamayo told local broadcaster Top Gun Radio Koronadal on Thursday, March 23.

The governor’s statement comes after the appellate court affirmed the validity of the South Cotabato Environment Code of 2010, dismissing a petition by a group that had sought to void the provincial ordinance. 

The decision, dated August 22, 2022, but was only revealed recently, upheld the province’s open pit mining ban, albeit limiting its application to small-scale mining operations. In effect, groups opposed to open-pit mining pointed out, the rulings allowed large-scale operations.

The Roman Catholic diocese and environmentalists worried that the ruling and the capitol’s position would have implications for the future of mining in South Cotabato, and its impact on the local community and environment.

Marbel Catholic Bishop Cerilo Casicas wrote to Tamayo on March 16 seeking a public dialogue about the CA’s decision about the province-wide open pit mining ban. 

Casicas asked Tamayo about the provincial government’s plan of action following the decision “to uphold the open-pit mining ban as a valid exercise of the police power by the province.”

“We respectfully request the Governor’s good office to enlighten us on what their plan of action is regarding this decision,” read part of the bishop’s letter.

The lack of formal announcement by the South Cotabato capitol prompted the Diocese to request immediate clarification and a conference. 

Tamayo, however, asserted that the decision of the appellate court cannot be altered, as it is the national government that holds the sole power and authority to issue permits for large-scale mining.

He said that if anyone wanted to contest the CA ruling, it should not be the provincial government that won the case, but the petitioners who sought the declaration of the Environment Code invalid. 

The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), a group working with communities threatened by open pit mining projects, maintained that the South Cotabato provincial government still has the option to appeal the CA decision so that the ban would also apply to large-scale open pit mining. 

Lawyer Rolly Peoro, LRC’s legal services coordinator, said it was the duty of the provincial government to appeal the CA decision on behalf of their constituencies, and if local officials wanted to protect communities from the effects of large-scale open pit mining operations.

Peoro argued that the regulatory role granted to local governments is an integral part of national-level mineral and resource governance laws, and cannot be limited solely to small-scale mining projects. 

He said Tamayo was in an ideal position to push back against what he called the curtailment of the autonomy granted by the Local Government Code to local chief executives, who are defending their constituents’ right to a balanced and healthy ecology.

The LRC’s stance has added to the growing debate surrounding the CA decision, and the potential impact of the court rulings on South Cotabato’s environment and communities. – Rappler.com

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