GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – A multisectoral group is up against what it sees as a move by the provincial government to lift a ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato.
This came as the South Cotabato provincial board called for a public hearing on Friday, February 18, on the proposed amendments to the province’s Environment Code, specifically the provision that bans open-pit mining.
The public hearing was held in Tampakan town, host of the multibillion-peso gold-copper project of the Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI).
The mining firm is seeking to tap 10,000 hectares of what is touted as the largest undeveloped copper and gold mine in Southeast Asia.
Vice Governor Vicente De Jesus said the provincial board members wanted to consult residents first before they vote on proposed amendments to the code.
The proposal seeks to amend Section 22B of the code which specifically bans open-pit mining in the province.
Catholic Bishop Cirilo Casicas of the Marbel Diocese deplored the venture which, he said, “even God will not approve” due to its impact on the environment and people.”
In a press conference after the public hearing, Fr. Jerome Millan expressed dismay at the continued disregard of provincial leaders to the multisectoral group’s position not to lift the ban on open-pit mining in the province.
Residents, some of whom were allegedly not allowed in the public hearing venue, urged leaders to show compassion to the environment and to protect the landmark environmental ordinance.
Millan, one of those behind the Tampakan Forum, a coalition of groups opposed to open-pit mining in the province, said they have gathered at least 93,453 signatures in support of the call to uphold the ban on open-pit mining.
He said the petition was submitted to the provincial board as early as December 9, 2021.
Millan said provincial legislators were silent on the petition and the number of signatures.
“Instead, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is continuing its efforts to review and amend the Environment Code,” he said.
Rene Pamplona, a representative of the Convergence of Initiative for Environmental Justice, said at least one capitol official was arrogant toward one of the participants who spoke against the proposed amendment during the public hearing.
“You have no right to insult someone expressing an opinion,” he said, referring to the official whom he did not name.
Pamplona said what was clear was that there were attempts to justify the moves to allow open-pit mining in the province because of how the province would supposedly financially benefit from it.
Yet, according to Pamplona, officials could not show adequate studies to support their assertions.
A group of Catholic priests said the capitol should not rush things, organize more public hearings, and make sure all sectors would be represented and allowed to speak up.
“It is not a right, it is just a privilege,” one of the priests said.
Another public hearing will be conducted on Thursday, February 24, at the South Cotabato Sports Complex in Koronadal City. – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship