mining in the Philippines

South Cotabato official defends move to lift open-pit mining ban

Rommel Rebollido
South Cotabato official defends move to lift open-pit mining ban

HASTY. South Cotabato provincial board members amend the province's environment code, lifting a 2010 ban on open-pit mining in the province.

courtesy of Chinkie Peliño-Golle

The opposition to the move that amends the local environment code and lifts the open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato is snowballing

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – One of the South Cotabato provincial board members behind the controversial move to lift a 12-year-old ban on open-pit mining said they amended the local environment code because illegal mining activities have proliferated in the province.

Provincial board member Hilario de Pedro VI took to social media on Tuesday, May 17, in defense of the May 16 amendment of the 2010 South Cotabato Environment Code which, in effect, also lifted the ban on open-pit mining in the province.

“Padayon ang mga illegal miners sa pag-operate nga wala regulasyon, wala income ang probinsiya, kag wala pag-tanaw sa buwas-damlag sang aton probinsiya,” said De Pedro, the chaiman of the provincial board’s environment committee.

(Illegal miners continue to operate without regulations and they don’t care about the future of the province.)

But De Pedro did not explain exactly why illegal miners were able to operate in the province despite laws against it.

The opposition to the provincial board’s move to amend the code and lift the open-pit mining ban is snowballing. Various groups in South Cotabato deplored the amendment.

Without the ban, the multibillion-dollar Tampakan copper-gold project of the Sagittarius Mining Incorporated (SMI) can proceed in extracting minerals in what is touted as the largest untapped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia, and one of the world’s biggest.

Catholic Bishop Cerilo Casicas of the Diocese of Marbel was among those who decried the move, calling it “tragic.” He also questioned the provincial board for approving the amendment “with undue haste.” 

South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said he too was surprised by the provincial board’s move on Monday. 

“Nakibot gid ako sa desisyon kay sa (election campaign) rally naga hambal sila nga anti-mining sila,” Tamayo told local radio station DXMS.  

(I was surprised with the decision because during the campaign they claimed they were against mining.)

Tamayo said he would meet with Bishop Casicas on Thursday, May 19, to discuss what can be done.

The bishop, as well as environmental advocates, had called on Tamayo to veto the amendment.

In a video that has been making the rounds on social media, De Pedro can be seen telling people during a campaign sortie that he was against the open-pit mining method.

De Pedro lost in his bid to retain his provincial board seat in the May 9 elections.

On Tuesday, De Pedro stood his ground and defended the move to amend the code which he said was violative of the 1987 Constitution.

He also said there were enough safeguards in the country’s present environmental laws.

Mining, he said, can help the country generate more revenues at this time when the national debt has ballooned by the trillions.

De Pedro said, “Ini nga mga illegal miners naga banlas kag nagapang-guba sang aton kalikasan sa ila nga mga pama-agi. Nagagamit pa gid sila sang mercury nga pagtapos nila gamit paanod lang nila sa suba, pakadto sa Koronadal. Nagapang utod sila mga kahoy nga wala naga tanom sang bag-o. Naga sige income nga wala nagahatag share sa komunidad kag sa probinsiya or sa national. Sa pag-operate sang SMI, sila mismo ang aton suguon nga magpauntat sa sini nga mga illegal nga operation.” 

(The illegal miners destroy the environment, even using mercury which they throw into the river that flows to Koronadal. They cut trees without replacing them. They earn big without sharing these with the community, the province, or national coffers. When SMI operates, we will ask them to halt all these illegal operations.) – Rappler.com

Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.