South Cotabato

South Cotabato environmentalists blow whistle on San Miguel’s coal mining operations

Rommel Rebollido

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South Cotabato environmentalists blow whistle on San Miguel’s coal mining operations

DEMONSTRATION. Residents of South Cotabato rally against open-pit mining in South Cotabato in May 2022.

Rommel Rebollido/Rappler

A group of environmentalists say a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation has been acquiring firms and clearing vast tracts of land for a massive coal mining project

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Environmentalists warned against plans by a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) to undertake large-scale coal mining operations in South Cotabato.

Lawyer Noel Ben, director of the Marist Hope Center for Justice and Good Governance, said the San Miguel Energy Corporation has been acquiring and clearing vast tracts of land, particularly in the Daguma mountain range that straddles the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, in preparation for the project.

The company is a subsidiary of SMC Global Power Holdings Corporation, one of the largest power firms in the country.

The problem, according to the environmentalists, is that San Miguel would use the open-pit mining method, which has been banned by South Cotabato’s 2010 environment code and which the local Catholic diocese and many residents oppose.

The code had been amended by the provincial board to lift the open-pit mining ban right after the May elections, resulting in street demonstrations that prompted South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. to issue a veto.

Ben said he and other environmentalists were apprehensive because local officials were silent about San Miguel’s ongoing clearing operations, which include cutting trees in areas being prepared for the planned coal mining operations.

The Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO) in South Cotabato said it would form a multi-tripartite monitoring team to make sure that the coal mining activities would be lawful.

PEMO chief Seigfred Flaviano said the company was still in the pre-scraping or clearing stage as of last week.

Initially, the planned coal mining operation covers nine hectares in El Dolog, El Gapok, Pulo Subong, Tawan Dagat, and Sigawit in the village Ned in Lake Sebu town.

Flaviano said it was the national government that issued a permit for the coal mining operation, and local governments can only do monitoring work to ensure that environmental laws are not violated.

The San Miguel group has invested heavily, buying vast tracts of land and companies that already hold coal mining concession rights in the province.

In 2010, San Miguel acquired Daguma Agro Minerals Incorporated (DAMI) which was granted a coal development and production operating contract in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat by the Department of Energy (DoE) on November 19, 2002.

San Miguel also acquired Bonanza Energy Resources Incorporated (BERI), and Sultan Mining and Energy Development Corporation (SMEDC).

Collectively, DAMI, BERI, and SMEDC have an estimated combined coal potential of 70 million metric tons in areas covering about 17,000 hectares.

In 2018, the South Cotabato provincial board rejected a proposed resolution that would have endorsed DAMI’s planned project in the province because that would have violated South Cotabato’s ban on open-pit mining.

The town government of T’boli and a barangay, however, passed resolutions to endorse the plan.

The proposed resolution was pushed by then-provincial board member Hilario de Pedro VI, the same official who sought to lift the ban by amending the now-vetoed environment code of the province.

Former provincial board member Cecille Diel said DAMI had planned to use the strip mining method which, she asserted, was a form of open-pit mining.

“That’s surface mining. That’s open-pit mining,” said Ben.

Ben warned that San Miguel revived the DAMI plan and was aggressively preparing the tracts of land it acquired for the massive open-pit coal mining operations, starting in Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu town.

He said he and his group checked the area on August 20 and saw many trees cut down as part of the ongoing clearing operations.

“It is important that people know what is happening in that place because there are watersheds and elements of the ecosystem that must be considered. The destruction could adversely affect people in nearby areas, especially in the lowlands,” Ben said.

The Catholic Diocese of Marbel strongly opposed the project due to environmental concerns, and issues about the encroachment on ancestral domains.

“We might bring the matter to court,” Ben said. –

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