Residents of southern Cotabato welcome DENR operating ban lifted

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines – Indigenous communities and leaders in the business and labor sectors here and in neighboring towns were delighted with the December 23 lifting of the four-year surface mining ban in the country.

Less than 20 kilometers from this city is the city of Tampakan where there are 5.8 billion euros (euro currency) of copper deposits, according to the estimates of local and foreign geologists and mining engineers, including Europeans and Australians.

The secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, Roy Cimatu, lifted on December 23, via the administrative order of the DENR 2021-40, the ban on surface mining imposed in 2017 by his predecessor, the late Gina Lopez.

The administrative order is apparently a direct imprimatur for the surface mining of copper and gold in the country.

“This is a prayer answered, a collective wish of the Blaan community in Tampakan and elsewhere in southern Cotabato and the T’boli people of the province,” tribal chief Bai Dalena Samling told reporters on Saturday.

Samling said their main goal now is to have the provincial surface mining ban lifted by southern Cotabato Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) soon.

“We are grateful that there is an ongoing review by the SP of this provincial ordinance, based on growing clamor from Indigenous peoples and many other areas of the province for this provincial law to be lifted,” Samling said in Hiligaynon vernacular.

The copper deposits in the city of Tampakan, in southern Cotabato, lie on the ancestral lands of the Blaans, an indigenous tribe.

The tribe, like all other indigenous Filipino communities, is empowered by the 24-year-old Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) to use the natural resources available in its centuries-old tribal estates for its own benefit.

Members of the South Cotabato SP have been examining for more than two months now the provincial environmental code that bans surface mining in the province.

The review is a response to petitions from the Blaan and T’boli sectors, central Mindanao business communities and key stakeholders for the mining of Tampakan’s vast copper deposits to boost socio-economic growth. from the south of Cotabato.

Edmund Ugal, a T’boli datu, said they were optimistic that South Cotabato SP will soon invalidate the provincial surface mine anti-mine ordinance, for them “anti-poor” and an affront to the also known IPRA. under the name of Republic 8371.

Influential Mindanao Business Council (MBC) chairman Vicente Lao said they were also in favor of lifting the provincial ordinance against surface mining in southern Cotabato.

“We hope that the local government can reconsider this ordinance. The fear some people have about surface mining needs to be addressed, ”Lao said.

He said they are certain that local communities will benefit a lot from mining operations in Tampakan due to the currently very high price of copper in the world market.

The Lao-led council is a large confluence of traders from all over Mindanao and has its groups in southern Cotabato and in this city, the provincial capital.

Leaders of Christian faith groups in central Mindanao have secretly called on journalists and social media bloggers to help lawmakers in South Cotabato province realize that they can do much to reduce poverty and the generation of income essential to health, education and social protection programs if they are withdrawn. the local ban on surface mining.

“We are not hypocrites like those in small groups or minority groups against this, some of them being missionaries using copper chalices for their worship rites,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity.

Owners of business establishments, hotels, and restaurants here and in neighboring towns to southern Cotabato actually expect a socio-economic boom once copper mining in Tampakan takes place on orders from the communities. local.

“The nationwide ban on surface mining has been lifted by Secretary Cimatu. We also call on the SP to lift the provincial law against this type of mining, ”said Victor Villa, owner of Mang Goryo restaurant here and in the town of Cotabato.

Villa said he and other restaurant and grocery store owners around expect dramatic improvements in local businesses right after copper mining begins in Tampakan.

“We talk about it a lot at rallies,” he said.

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