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Zamboanga del Norte considering ban on open-pit mining

BY DARWIN T. WEE, Correspondent
BusinessWorld Online
January 24, 2011

ZAMBOANGA CITY — Zamboanga del Norte could be the next province to ban open-pit mining.

In a draft measure, Zamboanga del Norte’s provincial board cited the adverse effect of open-pit mining on the environment and the meager share that the provincial government gets from mining taxes. It did not say how much it wanted to get.

If the province were to approve the measure, it will be the second to ban this mining method after South Cotabato. The latter, which approved its ban at the end of June last year, is now hearing arguments of opposing sides in this issue.

Another province, Romblon, ordered last Jan. 10 an indefinite moratorium on the exploration, excavation and utilization of metallic minerals until all concerns are addressed.

“One of the reasons why we are proposing this ordinance is the issue of share distribution,” Michael Allan Z. Ranillo, a member of the provincial board, said in an interview yesterday.

He also described open-pit mining as a “destructive” method that denudes forests.

Mr. Ranillo, who is one of the authors of the ordinance, entitled: “Protecting and conserving the integrity of the land and water resources,” said that the board also expects to clash with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which had earlier ordered South Cotabato to suspend the implementation of its ban until a review is completed.

South Cotabato had said it would defy the department, arguing that local governments have autonomy to enact and enforce laws governing their constituents and areas under their jurisdiction.

“We, the local government unit, have all the right to protect our natural resources, which are being raped by mining companies,” Mr. Ranillo said.

The provincial government of Zamboanga del Norte yesterday held its first public hearing on the ordinance, which was attended by representatives of mining firms, business groups, indigenous peoples, and religious groups.

At least two big mining firms are operating in Zamboanga del Norte: the Canadian-backed TVI Resource Development Phils., Inc. and Philex Mining Corp., which are into extracting gold, silver, copper, and zinc.

Mr. Ranillo noted that TVI, which is one the first mining firms that were attracted by Republic Act No. 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act in 1995, uses open-pit mining at its Canatuan mining site in the town of Siocon.

In a statement yesterday, TVI defended the use of the open-pit mining method.

“The fears on open-pit mining as reflected in the proposed ordinance, we wish to respectfully reiterate, is unfounded. This mining method is dictated by comprehensive studies that consider the configuration of the deposit and the geological features of the region,” the statement quoted Rene P. Subido, TVI’s vice-president for corporate social commitments, as saying during the public hearing.

“We believe that The Philippine Mining Act satisfactorily provides a framework for ensuring that the country gains the maximum benefits from the development of our mineral resources without compromising our environmental integrity,” he added.

One of the measures to assure protection of the environment, he said, is the “institutionalization of the Multi-Partite Monitoring Team” that regularly checks the mining firms’ compliance with environmental laws and regulations.

“Local government units of Zamboanga del Norte…are amply represented in the Canatuan Multi-Partite Monitoring Team. We believe this is an area where the province can strengthen its oversight and monitoring functions and, we submit, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan may wish to consider including [such strengthened functions] in an ordinance in lieu of an outright ban on open-pit mining,” Mr. Subido argued.

He also warned that the passage of the proposed ordinance in its present form will have enormous implications for Zamboanga del Norte. “If such legislation is passed, it will bring misery to hundreds of families who depend on legitimate large-scale mining for livelihood because they will lose their jobs or their businesses,” he said.

Michael M. Malacca, the president of the Dipolog business chamber, said the proposed ordinance is “business-unfriendly” and warned that Zamboanga del Norte, which is considered one of the poorest provinces of the country, will lose millions in tax collections and prospective investments if the ordinance were passed.

“Mining is an extractive industry and, by its very nature, has direct and indirect impact on the environment, whether it is open-pit, tunnel or any other mining method. These impacts, however, are known and can be mitigated. Environmental planning and rehabilitation are keys that the Philippine Mining Act has prescribed,” Edwin B. Capili, Philippine Chamber of Commerce vice-president for southwestern Mindanao, said.

He also noted that TVI had paid excise taxes totaling P205 million in 2003-2010. Some 40% of that amount, or about P82 million, had gone to local governments hosting the project, as required by law.

Mr. Ranillo said the provincial government will hold two more hearings before it decides on the ordinance. “It could be in April or May,” he said, when Zamboanga del Norte would make its decision.