by: Glenn S. Cantomayor, Rumel Adrian C. Dela Cruz, Johnyr M. Draper, Gabriel Vince C. Zablan

Hundreds of people protested in front of the South Cotabato provincial capitol in Koronadal City on Thursday, May 19, against the lifting of the province’s 12-year-old ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato, particularly in the municipality of Tampakan.

Environmental groups, youth advocates, religious sectors, and civil society organizations across Mindanao gathered for a solidarity march led by the Diocese of Marbel in a petition against Sagittarius Mines Inc.’s (SMI) Tampakan Mining Project in South Cotabato, an open-pit mine site that is set to be the largest open-pit gold-copper mine in the country.

The protest march along Alunan Avenue, Koronadal City, was a call to South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. to veto any resolution by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to lift the ban on open-pit mining.

The outrage erupted after the provincial board amended the 2010 South Cotabato Environment Code on May 16 to lift the province’s ban on open-pit mining.

The amendment was enacted to benefit multinational mining companies, specifically Sagittarius Mining Incorporated (SMI), which wanted to pursue the contentious $5.9 billion Tampakan project, which aimed to extract minerals from Southeast Asia’s largest untapped copper-gold deposit, which is also one of the world’s largest.

Tampakan Project is anticipated to produce approximately 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold. The project, however, met strong opposition from many groups, including religious, environmental, and development groups, because of its devastating effect on the environment.

Governor Tamayo met with Marbel Catholic Bishop Cerilo Casicas in response to the rally. Tamayo and Casicas agreed to form a technical working group that would recommend actions in response to the provincial board’s revision of the code.

Tamayo further stated that the technical team would consist of experts who would collaborate with Bishop Casicas’ group and submit their recommendations to him as soon as possible.

Bishop Casicas had previously urged Tamayo to veto the amendment, claiming that allowing open-pit mining was “something that even God would not approve.

On May 16, 11 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) board members voted for the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining. They are  Glezel D. Mariano, Hilario G. De Pedro IV, Dardanilo Dar, Edgar G. Sambog, Association of Barangay Captains President Rolando D. Malabuyoc, Eamon Gabriel V. Matti, Noel J. Escobillo, Henry L. Ladot, Antonio B. Fungan, S.K. Federation President Alyssa Marie L. Fale and Philippine Councilors League South Cotabato Chapter President Rose Grace J. Achurra. The other members who voted against lifting the ban are Jinky P. Avance, Ma. Ester V. Marin-Catorce, and Ellen Grace N. Subere-Albios.

On the 25th of May, five of the SP members filed a motion to redo the second reading. The purpose of the motion was to correct the alleged error and technicality of the proposed amendment to the environment code. However, nine of them disagreed with the motion.

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