Tribal, business leaders want SoCot provincial board lift open-pit mining ban after DENR lift ban

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KORONADAL CITY, PHILIPPINES

Tribal and business leaders look forward to the lifting of the open-pit mining ban by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) lifted the four-year-old open-pit mining ban in the country.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu signed Administrative Order No. 2021-40 last December 23 lifting the ban imposed in 2017 by his predecessor, the late Gina Lopez, an environmentalist. 

The administrative order is apparently a direct imprimatur for open-pit extraction of copper and gold in the country.

“That is an answered prayer, a collective wish of the Blaan community in Tampakan and elsewhere in South Cotabato and the T’boli people in the province, “ Bai Dalena Samling, a tribal leader, told reporters.

Tampakan town sits on a €5.8-billion worth of copper deposits, per estimate of local and foreign geologists and mining engineers.

Samling said their main goal now is to have the provincial open-pit mining ban lifted by the provincial government.

“We are thankful that there is an on-going review by the SP of that provincial ordinance, based on mounting clamors of the indigenous people and many other sectors in the province to have that provincial law lifted,” Samling said in Hiligaynon vernacular.

The copper deposits in Tampakan town in South Cotabato are in the ancestral lands of the Blaans, an indigenous tribe.

Members of the South Cotabato provincial board have been reviewing for more than two months now the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining in the province.

The review is a response to petitions by the Blaan and T’boli sectors, the business communities in central Mindanao and major stakeholders in favor of extracting the vast copper deposits in Tampakan to boost the socio-economic growth of South Cotabato.

Edmund Ugal, a T’boli datu, said they are optimistic the provincial government will soon lift the anti-open-pit mining ordinance.

Ugal described the ban as anti-poor.

The chairperson of the influential Mindanao Business Council (MBC), Vicente Lao, also favoured the lifting of the provincial ordinance against open-pit mining.

“We are hoping the local government can reconsider that ordinance. The fear that some people have about open pit mining shall be addressed surely,” Lao said.

He said the local communities will benefit a lot from mining operations in Tampakan owing to the very high price now of copper in the world market.

The council led by Lao is a large confluence of traders from across Mindanao and has its groups in South Cotabato and in this city, the provincial capital.

Owners of commercial establishments, hotels and restaurants here and in nearby South Cotabato towns are expecting a socio-economic boom once extraction of copper in Tampakan proceeds on the behest of the local communities.

“The national ban on open-pit mining had been lifted by Secretary Cimatu. We are asking the SP to lift the provincial law against that kind of mining operations too,” said Victor Villa, owner of the Mang Goryo restaurant here and in Cotabato City.

Villa said he and other owners of restaurants and food outlets around are anticipating dramatic improvements in local businesses right after extraction of copper in Tampakan begins. (John Unson)

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