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SOUTH COTABATO, Philippines – Hundreds have flocked to the South Cotabato provincial capitol in Koronadal City since Wednesday night, May 18, to protest the local legislature’s lifting of a 12-year-old ban on open-pit mining in the province.
By Thursday morning, May 19, protesters reached over a thousand, pressuring South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. to come out and assure them that he would act on their concerns.
The uproar came after the provincial board amended on Monday, May 16, the 2010 South Cotabato Environment Code that, in effect, lifted the ban on open-pit mining in the province.
The move was seen to benefit multinational mining companies, particularly Sagittarius Mining Incorporated (SMI) which wanted to pursue the controversial $5.9-billion Tampakan project aimed at extracting minerals from the largest untapped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, which is also one of the world’s biggest.
The Tampakan project is seen to yield about 375,000 tons of copper, and 360,000 ounces of gold, but it was greeted by strong opposition from various sectors, religious and environmental groups, and development organizations.
The rally prompted Governor Tamayo to meet with Marbel Catholic Bishop Cerilo Casicas. They agreed to form a technical working group that would recommend what actions to take about the provincial board’s approval of the code’s amendment.
Casicas earlier called on Tamayo to veto the amendment, saying the move to allow open-pit mining was something “that even God will not approve.”
“That group will be formed hours from now,” assured Tamayo to appease the protesters that gathered at the capitol.
Tamayo said the technical team would be composed of experts who would collaborate with the group of Bishop Casicas, and submit their recommendations the soonest.
Some of the protesters who trooped to the capital of South Cotabato since Wednesday night came from nearby cities and provinces. They spent the night in a vigil at the Christ the King Cathedral where they lit candles as a display of protest.
“People are hoping that the provincial board’s decision would be reversed,” said Chinkie Peliño-Golle, executive director of the non-governmental organization Interfacing Development Initiatives for Sustainability (IDIS). – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.