Tribal people and environmental activists stage a protest outside the provincial capital of the southern Philippine province of South Cotabato to press for a stop to coal mining and other destructive projects in the region. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)
Church leaders in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao have welcomed a decision by the South Cotabato provincial government to reject a proposed coal mine in the area.
It ruled on June 25 to reject the development of a 2,000-hectare coal mine in the village of Ned in the town of Lake Sebu.
Local officials said the mine went against the province's Environment Code that bars open-pit mining.
Catholic missionary nun Susan Bolanio, executive director of the Hesed Foundation Inc. of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, lauded the decision as "a victory for the environment."
"The spirit of God works through time," said the nun, adding that the decision "will unburden our already overburdened Mother Earth."
She said the decision would inspire local people to work toward "sustainable development and environmental protection."
Bishop Emeritus Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel said the coal project would have brought about "serious man-induced dangers such as deforestation and siltation."
"It would have been environmental plunder if mining had been allowed," said the prelate.
Strong opposition from Catholic Church leaders and pro-environment groups also prompted a foreign partner of a local mining company to back out from the project.
The proposed mine site was supposed to be inside a watershed forest reserve near the ancestral lands of the T'boli and Manobo tribes.
In December, eight tribesmen opposed to the mining project were killed during what was supposed to be a military anti-insurgency operation in the area.
The military claimed that the tribesmen were members or supporters of communist rebels. Human right groups blasted the military report, describing the incident as a massacre.
The coalfield that straddles the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat is believed to contain 211 million metric tons of deposits.