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South Cotabato residents glad with DENR’s lifting of mining ban

John Unson - Philstar.com
South Cotabato residents glad with DENRâs lifting of mining ban
The Blaan ancestral lands in the copper-rich Tampakan town in South Cotabato.
Philstar.com / John Unson

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — The indigenous communities and leaders of the business and labor sectors here and in nearby towns were elated with the December 23 lifting of the four-year open-pit mining ban in the country.

Less than 20 kilometers from this city is Tampakan town where there are €5.8 billion (Euro currency) worth of copper deposits, per estimate of local and foreign geologists and mining engineers, among them European and Australians.
 
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu lifted last December 23, via DENR Administrative Order 2021-40, the open-pit mining ban imposed in 2017 by his predecessor, the late Gina Lopez. 
 
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 Saturday.
 
Samling said their main goal now is to have the provincial open-pit mining ban lifted soon too by the South Cotabato Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP).
 
“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 ancestral lands of the Blaans, an indigenous tribe.
 
The tribe, like all other Philippine indigenous communities, is empowered by the now 24-year Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) to utilize the natural resources obtainable in its centuries-old tribal domains for its benefit.
 
Members of the South Cotabato SP 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 South Cotabato SP will soon invalidate the provincial anti-open-pit mining ordinance, for them “anti-poor” and an affront to the IPRA, also known as the Republic 8371.
 
The chairperson of the influential Mindanao Business Council (MBC), Vicente Lao, said they are also for the lifting of the provincial ordinance against open-pit mining in South Cotabato.
 
“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 they are certain the local communities shall 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.
 
Leaders of Christian religious groups in central Mindanao have secretly been telling reporters and social media bloggers to help make South Cotabato provincial legislators realize that they can contribute a lot to poverty alleviation and generation of revenues essential to health, education and social welfare programs if they lift the local anti-open pit mining ban.
 
“We are not hypocrites like those in the small, or minority groups against it, some of them missionaries using chalices made of copper for their worship rites,” one of the sources, who requested anonymity, said.
 
Owners of commercial establishments, hotels and restaurants here and in nearby South Cotabato towns are, in fact, looking forward to 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.

"We talk about that a lot during gatherings," he said.

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