The controversial Environment Code that bans open-pit mining method in South Cotabato will soon take effect after the completion of the publication requirement, with the crafting of the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) the next step to do to govern the local law, provincial officials said on Monday.
Vice-Governor Elmo B. Tolosa, presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), said the Environment Code, which was seen as a stumbling block to the proposed massive Tampakan project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. was published on September 18, 25 and October 2 in a local newspaper.
“The publication of the Environment Code completes the role of the SP [for the Environment Code to take effect as a local law]. The next step is the crafting of the IRR which is the responsibility of the [provincial] executive department,” Tolosa told local reporters.
Governor Arthur Y. Pingoy, Jr. said the Environment Code will be implemented 15 days after the last publication.
Pingoy told that he has directed the Provincial Planning and Development Office to spearhead the crafting of the IRR following the compliance of the publication requirement.
The publication of the Environment Code is a requisite for it to become operative. Section 179 or the effectivity clause of the code states: “This Code shall take effect fifteen days following the posting requirements and after its full publication compliance for three consecutive issues in a local newspaper of general circulation within the Province of South Cotabato, whichever occurs later.
The weekly Southern Recorder won the bidding process to publish the code.
Fr. Romeo Q. Catedral, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel, said the Environment Code is now in effect, contradicting Pingoy.
“It is effective after the third publication, 15 days is [the] posting requirement which was done already,” the priest said in a text message.
Tolosa urged the provincial executive department to carefully study the drafting of the IRR.
“The IRR is not easy to make considering [that the Environment Code] is a very sensitive and controversial issue. This must be approached with utmost care, consideration, discretion, and wisdom,” the vice-governor said.
There are petitions to review the Environment Code from sectors supportive of the venture of Sagittarius Mines and this have been referred to the environment and legal affairs committees of the Provincial Board, said Tolosa.
Sand and gravel quarry operators have also asked for the review of the open-pit ban for fear it would hamper their operations, he added.
Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel, who opposes staunchly the Tampakan project, has opposed any review of the code, noting this should be the legacy of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to the people of South Cotabato.
The Tampakan project, which is targeted for commercial operation by 2016, has the potential to yield 12.8 million tons of copper and 15.2 million ounces of gold. Sagittarius Mines, which is currently in the exploratory stage, is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the minority equity partner.
Aside from the deposits in Tampakan, South Cotabato’s Lake Sebu town is also rich in coal with an estimated volume of 426 million metric tons.
Food-to-energy conglomerate San Miguel Corp. has acquired Sultan Energy Philippines Corp., Daguma Agro Minerals, Inc., and Bonanza Energy Resources Corp., the companies with the rights over coal deposits in the area.
There are also iron deposits in the province that may be affected by the open-pit ban but data from the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau was not immediately available.
Constancio A. Paye, Jr., regional Mines and Geosciences chief, said the talks with Pingoy for a compromise deal, as earlier directed by President Benigno C. Aquino III, did not yield positive results.
The governor is taking a hands-off as matters related to such is the domain of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, said Paye, adding there was only one meeting between Pingoy and key national officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in August. (ROMER S. SARMIENTO- The Mindanao Cross)