Saying local government units have the “right to say no” to projects that threaten the welfare of the people, environment and indigenous peoples’ rights activists said President Benigno Aquino III should respect the decision of the provincial government of South Cotabato to pass the Environment Code that bans the open pit mining method in the province.

Erwin Quinones, campaigns paralegal of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KsK), told MindaNews that the President must respect the right of the local government units to manage and develop the resources within their jurisdiction.

He quoted Section 16 of the Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160 which states:
“Every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied there from, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare.”

On July 12, the President said he will strive to hammer out a compromise on South Cotabato’s Environment Code.

“I will work towards getting them to meet on a common ground that will allay the fears and also afford us the benefits of this investment,” reports quoted Aquino as having said.
But Fr. Romeo Catedral, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, told MindaNews over mobile phone that President Aquino should not undermine the Environment Code since it is not just a product of overnight discussion.

Catedral pointed out that it took them six years to hammer out the code, which he said is a product of consultations with different sectors in the province.
“He said that his boss will be the people. But look what’s happening now, it seems that his boss are the mining companies,” the priest said referring to the inaugural speech of the President where he declared “kayo ang boss ko.”

Catedral also echoed Quinones statement asking the national government to reconsider its policy of imposing its will on the people that will be directly affected by the impacts of mining.
“If you’ll really take a look at the revenues that the local government will get from the mining project, it is not enough to compensate for the damages on the environment. I hope President Aquino will listen to the people. This is a landmark decision of the people of South Cotabato. He should not undermine it,” he stressed.

In a separate statement, LRC-KsK also said that “President Aquino would do well in his vow to correct injustices of past administrations by respecting and protecting the Code. There should absolutely be no compromise on environment and people’s rights.”

The statement added:
“If there should be a compromise in order to benefit from investments, then this should be on redirecting the investments flow in South Cotabato towards agricultural development for food security, building up small and medium scale enterprises, promotion of eco-tourism, strengthening of ancestral domains, developing manufacturing capability for products needed by the people, and investing in building the capability of communities to maximize their resources towards sustainable development.”

LRC-KsK also called on South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pinggoy “not to squander the environmental and pro-people legacy” left behind by the previous provincial board.

Upon assuming his post as governor, Pingoy said the provincial government will review the Code for possible legal infirmities before implementing it.

John B. Arnaldo, communications officer of Australian-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. which operates the copper-gold project in Tampakan, South Cotabato earlier said a local law (Environment Code) cannot possibly prevail over a national law (1995 Mining Law). (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)

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