Philippines: Catholics celebrate new law banning open cast mining

An early anti-mine demonstration

An early anti-mine demonstration

Catholics in the Diocese of Marbel in Mindanao are celebrating the signing into law of a code banning open pit mining in South Cotobato. Daisy Avance-Fuentes signed days before she stepped down from of post of governor on 30 June. The signing of the environment code will affect not only the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc, (SMI) which is currently exploring copper and gold deposits in the mountains of Tampakan town, South Cotabato, but other mining firms operating in the province.

On 22 June the Church organised for 12,000 people to get out on the streets to lobby the governor to sign the document. They included parishioners, student groups, farmers’ associations, indigenous peoples, and civil society organisations. The diocesan bishop, Dinualdo Gutierrez, attended a rally and said, “this environment code is important not just for the present generation but also for the future of our children”. He said he had prayed constantly for the signing of the code.

Bishop Gutierrez spoke in a meeting at the Palace of Westminster in 2007, urging British investors not to fund destructive mining the Philippines.   The Justice and Peace office of the Columban Fathers in London sent a message of thanks to former Governor Avance-Fuentes. Fr Frank Nally, who worked in the Philippines and who is part of the UK-based Working Group on Mining in the Philippines, said in his message that, “you were very right in taking into account the environment, food security and the needs of the people now and in future generations”.

The company Xstrata-SMI earlier announced it would employ open-pit to extract copper and gold deposits in the area. Its management is planning to question before the higher court the legality of the local environment code. John Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager, claimed the environment code contradicted the Mining Act, which has allowed open-pit mining. Xstrata-SMI say the Tampakan copper-gold project is the biggest copper deposit in the Asia-Pacific region that is expected to contribute significantly to local and national taxes. Church opponents point out that despite the presence of Xstrata-SMI in the province and neighbouring areas for years, the host communities remain mired in poverty. They feel that further destruction of rainforest, rice fields and water sources can only make their plight worse.