Church, green groups hit lifting of open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato 

May 17, 2022

Church and pro-environment organizations condemned the lifting of the controversial ban on open-pit mining in the southern Philippines province of South Cotabato.

The Provincial Council of South Cotabato on Monday voted “yes” to approve the proposal to lift the 12-year-old policy banning open-pit mining, removing the only obstacle for long-delayed Tampakan copper and gold mining projects.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines, said it is embarrassing that right after the elections, politicians “immediately tricked us by favoring the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining in Tampakan.”

Bagaforo, who is the prelate of Kidapawan, called on the public to “unite and advance the protection and defense, not only of the mining-affected communities, but ‘Our Common Home’.”

The copper-gold minefield in Tampakan town is the largest undeveloped copper-gold resource in the South-East Asia Western-Pacific region.

On March 22, 1995, the Philippine government issued a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) to the proponents of the US$ 5.9 billion mining projects, which was considered as the single largest foreign direct investment in the country. 

The FTAA, which expired on March 22, 2020, was awarded a 12-year extension by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2019.

In a press conference on May 16, Bishop Cerilo Casicas of Marbel said the decision of the provincial council to lift the ban is a “betrayal” to the people. 

The prelate said provincial board members did not even explain why they voted in favor of the lifting of the ban, adding that the “future of the province was decided this morning in 15 minutes.”

“We will not take this sitting down. We will not take this silently,” said Bishop Casicas.

According to the study conducted by its proponent, the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), the Tampakan mining project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold annually.

Anti-mining activists claimed that the mining project will displace more than 1,000 tribal families in four provinces in Mindanao.

At least 32 percent of agricultural lands and 75 percent of forested areas in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and Davao del Sur will be affected by the project.

The mining project is mostly located in ancestral territories of the B’laan tribal group and other tribal communities.

The group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) accused members of the provincial board of railroading the process of amending the Environmental Code because “they hastily approved in a regular session a motion to adopt proposed amendments, without any discussion or votation.”  

“It is worth noting that the proposed amendments carried changes that were not originally part of the proposal presented to the public. These additional amendments were also fast-tracked as it had no benefit of any discussion whatsoever,” said Rene Pamplona, chairperson of ATM. 

Pamplona said the Provincial Council “deceived all those who participated in the supposedly democratic process of attending public hearings and submitting position papers.”  

He said the Council also “cheated the future generation of their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” 

Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment urged South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo to veto the proposed amendments to the provincial Environmental Code.

In March, Tamayo endorsed a proposal to keep the ban on open-pit mining in the province amidst moves to reserve it. 

Dulce said the “lifting the open-pit mine ban will allow mining projects to destroy life-giving watershed” ecosystems within South Cotabato, including the Altayan-Taplan River ecosystems in the Quezon Mountain Range.

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte lifted the nationwide ban on open-pit mining to revitalize the mining industry and revive the economy amid the pandemic. 

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