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Companies challenge open-pit mine ban

Mine owners say method is safe and economical

  • Bong S. Sarmiento, Koronadal City
  • Philippines
  • September 11, 2012
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South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy Jr. said he is bracing for a lawsuit over a ban on open-pit mining. The ban came into force in 2010, but the mining industry says it contravenes Philippine law.

Pingoy maintained that the provincial government has been consistent in its stand that open-pit mining threatens the environment. He added that legal confrontation could have been avoided if the national government had consulted local officials on the issue.

Vice Governor Elmo Tolosa added that the ban will continue until the courts decide against it.

The Philippines' local government code gives local officials the authority to pass resolutions and laws governing their territory, including those concerned with economic activities, but they are expected to be consistent with national laws. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 does not prohibit open-pit mining.

The local government “welcomes” the legal challenge, Tolosa said, “although there could be some ways to resolve this problem.”

The resolution does not ban mining, only the open-pit method of extraction of minerals.

Sagittarius Mines, however, said open-pit mining, as opposed to tunnel mining, is the safest and most economical way to extract minerals.

The foreign-backed company operates a US$5.9 billion copper and gold project in the province. Sagittarius’ schedule for commercial production suffered a setback in January, when the government rejected its application for an environmental compliance certificate on the basis of the open-pit ban.

The Tampakan project of Sagittarius Mines is claimed to be the largest known undeveloped copper and gold reserve in Southeast Asia, with an estimated 15 million tons of copper and 17.9 million ounces of gold.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines communications manager, said that the company observes "responsible business practices" in dealing with affected communities.

But indigenous peoples organizations' and anti-mining advocates, including church leaders, have claimed that farming in the area will be restricted and indigenous peoples' burial grounds will be affected.

Fr. Gillarme B. Pelino, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, left for Berlin yesterday to make a presentation to German industrial stakeholders on the local impact of mining.

"I will detail the human rights abuses suffered by the community even while the company is still in the exploration stage, as well as the environmental and agricultural impact of the project," he said.

The meeting, which is organized by Miserior, the development arm of the German Catholic Bishops’ Organization for Development Cooperation, and Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), an agency for ecumenical development, will gather 50 participants from developing and emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America
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