Bishop asks South Cotabato to clarify stance on open-pit ban


THE Bishop of Marbel has asked the South Cotabato province to clarify the status of its open-pit mining ban, following a Court of Appeals (CA) decision apparently permitting the controversial mining method.

The Diocese of Marbel, a city also known as Koronadal, which is the provincial capital, sent a letter dated March 16 to Governor Reynaldo S. Tamayo, seeking a “formal announcement” on the ruling from the province.

The CA decision, dated Aug. 22, 2022, “limits the open-pit mining ban to small-scale mining operations,” the diocese said. The CA ruling was handed down following an appeal of a Koronadal Regional Trial Court decision upholding the open-pit mining ban as a valid exercise of the province’s police power.

“We respectfully request the Governor’s good office to enlighten us on what their plan of action is regarding this decision,” the Bishop of Marbel, Cerilo Casicas, said in the letter.

The ban had resulted in the suspension of the proposed $5.9-billion Tampakan copper and gold mine.

Non-profit organization Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) urged the provincial government to appeal the CA decision.

“This is not the end of the line for the open-pit mining ban. Certainly, the provincial government on behalf of their constituencies has the duty to appeal the CA decision precisely as the decision recognizes (the province’s) police powers,” LRC legal services coordinator Rolly Peoro said.

He said the authority of the LGU to regulate mineral and resource governance should not be limited to small-scale mining projects, adding that the province must defend its constituents’ right to environmental protection.

“Notwithstanding the pronouncement of the Court of Appeals, we remain firm in our stand that open-pit mining operations in South Cotabato pose a great risk to the integrity of the environment of our province and its neighbors. At stake are the health and livelihoods of many,” the Diocese said.

Tampakan is the largest underdeveloped copper-gold prospect in Southeast Asia. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera