GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. on Monday, January 23, called on groups opposed to the ongoing coal mining operations in Lake Sebu town to go to court, saying his hands were tied because it was the national government that allowed it.
Tamayo said the mining operations by subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation have the approval of the Department of Energy (DOE).
“That cannot be stopped. They (anti-mining groups) want me to stop it, but it would be difficult with those huge bulldozers there,” he said.
The governor claimed he had nothing to do with the ongoing coal mining in Lake Sebu town.
It was the previous South Cotabato provincial board, he said, that approved a resolution that interposed no objection to the mining operations.
“I was even bypassed [by the provincial board],” Tamayo said.
Tamayo also asked groups opposed to the mining operations in South Cotabato why they did not express their opposition to coal mining in the village of Ned with the same intensity as they did when another mining giant, Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI), operated in the province.
He noted that the SMI operations were greeted with large anti-mining rallies, but there was none like that at the time San Miguel’s subsidiaries – Daguma Agro Minerals Incorporated (DAMI) and Sultan Energy Philippine Corporation (SEPC) – were still securing government permits.
The local Catholic archdiocese and environmental groups have been criticizing South Cotabato officials for being indifferent to calls for them to protect communities from the adverse effects of the mining operations.
They have called on government officials to heed demands for them to take a strong stand and enforce a provincial ordinance that bans open pit mining province-wide.
Provincial officials earlier said they doubted if a local law can stop the national government from allowing mining companies to operate in South Cotabato.
San Miguel’s subsidiaries have been deploying earth-moving equipment to Lake Sebu for clearing operations. The companies have so far caused a school to be relocated and displaced hundreds of residents.
Tamayo has asked the miners to help the affected villagers by relocating them to a safer area.
Through its subsidiaries, San Miguel plans to extract 70 million metric tons of coal in areas covering around 17,000 hectares in South Cotabato up to Sultan Kudarat province.
Lawyer Noel Ben, director of the Marist Hope Center for Justice and Good Governance, said there was a need to further make people in South Cotabato aware of the potentially irreversible damage to the ecosystem that would be caused by the mining operations.
Legal action may be taken as a last resort, Ben said.
Father Angel Buenavides, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marbel, said he was worried because the mining companies were operating in a watershed area.
The village of Ned is within a watershed area and is home to the world’s largest eagle, and around 50 species of amphibians and reptiles, 30% of which are found only in the Philippines.
The coal mining operations in Ned cover nine hectares where at least 300 sinkholes and landslide-prone areas were found by experts in 2019.
Rolly Aquino, chief of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said the sinkholes and erosion areas were found in the districts of El Dolog, Tuburan, Polosubong, Kiantay, and Tawang Dagat.
An initial assessment report by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Soccsksargen attributed the land surface movements and landslides to the coal deposits underneath. – Rappler.com