The fight against the SMI-Xtrata project is not yet over.
We are gratified that Sagittarius Mines, Inc. has been denied environmental clearance for the controversial $5.9 billion project in South Cotabato. For the meantime. In a formal communication to Mr Peter Forrestal, the SMI President, Atty Juan Miguel Cuna, OIC-Director of the Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR, states:
“Please be informed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has come up wioth a decision regarding the above subject through a memorandum from the Secretary [of the DENR] dated 03 January 2012 addressed to the undersigned. The decision’s main context is hereby quoted as follows:
‘’’Reference to the application for Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. for their proposed Tampakan Copper-Gold Mine Project in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur, we are returning herewith the application documents with instructions to deny the same, without prejudice to resubmission, until the issues and concerns on the use of open pit minint method shall have been clarifified and resolved by the Company (SMI) with the Provincial Government of South Cotabato.”
“In view of the above, you are hereby advised to refrain from undertaking any development activity in areas mentioned in the application for ECC until the same is issued in your favor including permits from concerned government agencies.”
For those who have been opposed to this humungous project, which proposed to leave a 500 ha. open-pit, 800 meters deep, in the Tampakan hills and seriously affect the fresh water supplies of the surrounding communities, this is happy news. Especially South Cotabato’s Provincial Council and its Governor Arthur Pingoy are to be congratulated for their courageous landmark position against open pit mining in the province.
Even if SMI is not happy. As reported in today’s PDI’s front-page article entitled, “$5.9-B Mine Project Fails to Get ECC,” Mr. Forrestal states:
“SMI intends to immediately file an appeal for a reconsideration of the decision as permitted under the ECC application process.
“We believe this decision sets a precedent that contradicts the publicly stated views of the Aquino administration – namely that national laws which permit open-pit mining methods should have precedence over conflicting provincial ordinances.”
The SMI President also stated, “We are concerned this decision was not made on the merits of our mine project Environment Impact Statement (EIS), which fully complies with the requirements of the DENR’s own ECC process and is backed by a world-class environment impact assessment study.”
The ECC has been denied. But without finality. SMI has been instructed to resolve issues with the local government of South Cotabato. SMI is smarting from this, thinking that the flawed national law on mining of 1995 would have been enough to vitiate the effect of the local provincial ordinance. They were wrong.
They have found out that a provincial ordinance backed up by the Provincial Governor, the Churches, the NGOs, the local communities, and academe is nothing to be trifled with. Especially when people are willing to fight for their integrity of their homeland.
Since SMI is going to appeal the decision, maximum vigilance among opponents to the project is yet warranted. Especially since the ultimate objectionableness of the project is not in the mere conflict of local and national laws, as the denial might suggest. Why the project must be opposed is due to the grave environmental damage the project will inflict on the concerned Provinces, seriously affecting the life and long-term welfare of the affected communities. This has been only confirmed by the “world-class environmental impact assessment study” conducted by SMI.
After the environmental disasters in Pantukan and Cagayan de Oro, all must exercise greater vigilance in how economic activities impact negatively on the environment.
Meanwhile, the denial gives both the executive and legislative department of our government a little more opportunity to seriously re-examine and reform the national policy on mining so that large-scale mining activities, largely foreign, do not ravage the Philippine environment with impunity, and give to foreigners free of charge the mineral patrimony of the nation. Also urgent is the need to regulate, or completely eradicate, the activities of environmentally harmful small-scale miners.
Even with new laws, the country must develop the capacity to enforce them. Meanwhile, the denial of environmental clearances is enlightened.
The PDI article today ends with the statement, “The Philippines aims to amass $18 billion in aggregate mining investments by 2016.” Investments, however, are not necessarily wealth for the country. Without a more enlightened national policy on mining, these investments could lead to the loss of US 187 billion worth of minerals which belong to the Filipino People.
In this light, people should invest in something else.