Friday, July 16, 2010

PNoy suggests compromise on South Cotabato environment code issue

SOUTH COTABATO, Philippines - The Philippine government has started consultations aimed at settling an issue brought about by a newly enacted ordinance that bans open pit mining in South Cotabato province in Mindanao and threatening a $6-billion gold-copper project in that province.

The project run by Sagittarius Mines Inc. is expected to start production in 2015 and hopes to generate 10,000 jobs during construction and 2,000 jobs during operations.

Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje on Tuesday said “they have received instructions from the President to negotiate and attain a compromise”.

"The instruction from Noynoy is that we should attain a compromise," Paje said, referring to the President. "The president has already given us that mandate. It is very important for us." he added.

On Monday, President Benigno Aquino III told reporters he would work out a compromise among concerned parties and that there are consultations going on as in the case of Sagittarius Mines Inc., whose multi-million dollar mining investment is threatened by a provincial ordinance due to environmental concerns.

SMI's investment is touted as the Philippines' largest single investment ever. The Tampakan Gold Copper Project is estimated to contain 13.5 million tonnes of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold at a 0.3 percent cut-off grade.

The outgoing provincial governor of South Cotabato last month signed and approved the province's Environment Code, which contains a provision that bans open pit mining. The local ordinance triggered uproar from residents and upland tribes within the proposed project area, claiming that local legislators are robbing them of their future.

The President, however, said that the provincial government believes open-pit mining is detrimental to the environment and there is no new technology that will make it safer, while the mining industry players say there can be a healthy compromise that affords us the jobs, the investment and the multiplier effect of that investment on the economy.

“I will work toward that getting them to meet on a common ground that will allay the fears and also afford us the benefits of this investment”, he said.

He expressed “confidence that there can be a meeting of the minds in an atmosphere of trust provided by his administration.”

Aquino said, however, “that at the end of the day it will be the local community whose voice will be loudest as far as I’m concerned, because they the ones to suffer if a disaster happens.”

Paje said “the government wanted to resolve the issue through negotiations, but it could not stop mine operators challenging the legality of the local law in court. (Nikki Gomez)

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