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Anti-mining group welcomes veto of measure lifting ban on open-pit mining in Mindanao

The group said it “welcomes the rightful decision” of the governor to veto Ordinance N0. 23, Series of 2022, that was enacted on May 16, 2022

An anti-mining activist group welcomed on Friday, June 3, the decision of Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. of South Cotabato to veto a measure removing the controversial ban on open-pit mining in the province.

“This is a victory of the people of South Cotabato and is the correct move of Governor Tamayo in protecting the right of his constituents to a safe ecology and promoting the comfort and welfare of a majority of the affected communities,” read a statement from the group Alyansa Tigil Mina or Alliance to Stop Mining (ATM).

The group said it “welcomes the rightful decision” of the governor to veto Ordinance N0. 23, Series of 2022, that was enacted by the Provincial Board of South Cotabato on May 16, 2022.

The ordinance amended the Provincial Environment Code of South Cotabato and lifted the ban on open-pit mining in the province.

In his veto letter, Governor Tamayo said the proposed measure is “prejudicial to the public welfare and inimical to the overall interest” of people in South Cotabato.

“I could not find any compelling reason why the [Provincial Board] would amend a decade-old ordinance that ably and effectively protect the people ofSouth Cotabato from the ill effects of the wanton destruction of our God-given resources by the multinational corporations,” he said.

“Time and time again, it is always stressed that the province’s holistic development is anchored first and foremost on its people,” he added.

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He expressed hope that the Provincial Board “shall no longer override my decision to veto this ordinance.”

“We congratulate the people of South Cotabato led by farmers and the Diocese of Marbel for holding their ground and resisting the move of some of its government officials to overturn the progressive environmental laws in South Cotabato,” read the ATM statement.

The group said it will continue to monitor developments on the issue “as there is still a chance that the [Provincial Board] may override this veto.”

“We will take this matter seriously and join the vigilance of local communities in South Cotabato to continue lobbying and putting pressure on the [Board] to not override the veto,” it added.

Rodne Galicha of Living Laudato si’ Philippines said the governor’s decision “gives temporary relief” to the people.

“But it is not only about the will of the people, it is a personal and collective moral choice. Any decision that favors the environment and the people is just and moral,” he said.

Governor Tamayo, however, said earlier that a veto of the board’s resolution to lift the open-pit mining ban is not an assurance that the Tampakan mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. will not operate.

“With or without a veto, their large-scale mining operation can proceed because the local government is not the one giving them the permit. They have obtained a permit from the national government,” the governor told reporters on Wednesday, June 1.

He said a national law — the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that allows the open-pit mining method — supersedes local legislation — a 12-year-old landmark environment code of the province of South Cotabato that prohibits open-pit mining.

On May 16, majority of the members of the Provincial Board approved the amendment of the environment code that lifted the ban on open-pit mining.

The lifting of the ban has removed the final regulatory obstacle for a long-delayed copper and gold project in the province.

Tampakan mines in Mindanao

The Tampakan project on Mindanao island has been described by its developer Sagittarius Mines as “one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in the world.”

It was previously estimated to cost US$5.9 billion and was due to start operation in 2016.

But the project has faced numerous problems, including the local government’s 2010 ban on open-cast mining and opposition from church, community and environmental groups.

Sagittarius, which is headquartered in South Cotabato and is a government contractor, had already obtained the necessary certification from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and agreement from the indigenous community.

Open-pit mining directly extracts minerals on the ground and differs from other methods that require tunneling or underground mining.

The Philippines is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of nickel ore and is also rich in copper and gold, but the government estimates 95 percent of its mineral resources remain untapped.

Mining revenues contribute less than one percent of GDP to the economy, according to the latest available government data.

A nationwide ban on open-pit mines was lifted last year in a bid to revitalize the country’s coronavirus-battered economy.

It was imposed in 2017 when the then-environment minister blamed the sector for widespread ecological damage.

Manila has since reversed course, encouraging mining investments to shore up government revenues as lockdowns and quarantine restrictions ravaged the economy.

In April 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte — who had previously threatened to shut down the sector completely — lifted a nine-year ban on new mining deals set by his predecessor following public backlash over a series of devastating accidents. – with a report from Agence France Presse

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