SoCot board junks coal mine project in Lake Sebu

GENERAL SANTOS CITY--Saying it violates the province’s environmental code, the provincial board of South Cotabato rejected on Monday the planned large-scale coal mining project by a subsidiary of conglomerate San Miguel Corp. in the mountains of Lake Sebu town.

Voting 6-4, the board junked a proposed resolution granting favorable endorsement to the coal operating contract issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) to Daguma Agro Minerals, Inc. (DAMI) for portions of Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu.

The passage of the resolution was pushed by the board’s committee on environment, which issued an endorsement for the project amid opposition from some members.

Board members who voted in favor of the endorsement were Hilario de Pedro VI, Dardanilo Dar, Glezel Mariano-Trabado, and Sheelamar Baclaan, while those who opposed the measure were Romulo Solivio, Ester Marin-Catorce, Cecille Diel, Ellen Grace Subere-Albios, Romeo Tamayo, and Vicente Yungco.

Board members Agustin Dema-ala Jr. and Edgar Sambog were on official leave while Eamon Gabriel Matti presided over the session after Vice Governor Vicente de Jesus decided not to participate in the voting process.

Diel, who was among the vocal opponents of the project, said the proposed coal mining in Lake Sebu violates the provisions of the provincial environment code, especially the ban on open-pit mining.

She noted that DAMI has proposed the strip mining method for the Lake Sebu project, which is considered a form of open-pit mining.
Section 22b of the Code, which was passed in 2010, provides that the “open-pit mining method shall not be allowed in the province of South Cotabato.”

It defined open-pit mining as “surface mining operation in which blocks of earth are dug from the surface to extract the ore contained therein. Open-pit mining also refers to a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or burrow. The term is used to differentiate this form of mining from extractive methods that require tunneling into the earth.”

Critics have said the code is bereft of legal basis as it contradicts the Mining Act of 1995, which recognizes open pit as a valid mining method. They said the regulation of large-scale mining is beyond the scope of the provincial government.

Diel, however, said such question should be resolved by a “judicial declaration” and with the absence of such, “the environment code is presumed valid.”

De Pedro, who chairs the environment committee, called the proposed project as a necessary development for Lake Sebu and the entire province.

He said the provincial government needs to find additional sources of revenues as it faces a potential decrease in Internal Revenue Allotment with the looming conversion of one of its 10 municipalities into a city.

“We’re also in need of energy (resources),” he said.

The voting came after more than a year of deliberations at the plenary and the environment committee that have caused bitter disagreements and deep division among members of the 14-person provincial board.      

It was deferred several times these past months due to questions and issues mainly raised by opponents of the project.

DAMI was issued by the DOE with operating contract number 126 on Nov. 19, 2002 for coal “development/production” in parts of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

In 2010, San Miguel acquired DAMI, its sister company Bonanza Energy Resources, Inc. and another contract holder, Sultan Mining and Energy Development Corp. The three coal projects, which have estimated combined coal reserves of 70 million metric tons, cover some 17,000 hectares.

The Diocese of Marbel, some local tribal groups, and environmental organizations have strongly opposed the project due to environmental concerns and its encroachment on ancestral domains in the area. (PNA)