Philippines: Local court upholds ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato

Published by MAC on 2020-10-31
Source: Alyansa Tigil Mina, (2020-10-30)

Ayansa Tigil Mina (ATM) welcomed the ruling of a local court upholding a local government’s ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato. Acting Presiding Judge Vicente Pena issued the ruling last Oct. 13, 2020. Pena concluded that Sec. 22 of Ordinance 04, Series 2010 entitled “An Ordinance Providing for the Environment Code of the Province of South Cotabato”, which put a ban on open-pit mining in the province was “not invalid and rather legal and consistent” with other laws and even the Constitution.

See also:

2020-08-27 Philippines: Mines look to re-start amid protest and killings

2015-08-18 Philippines: Glencore finalises its Tampakan departure

2014-05-29 Philippines: Global action around Glencore’s Tampakan Mine

Mammoth Tampakan project hits snag as local court upholds ban on open-pit mining

15 October 2020

Tampakan, South Cotabato – A local court has thrown out a motion to invalidate a local environmental code that bans open-pit mining in the
province of South Cotabato.

In a court ruling issued recently, Judge Vicente Peña upheld the legality of the code, citing provisions in the Constitution, the Local
Government Code, and an administrative order of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

This decision has implications for the controversial Tampakan Gold-Copper Project (TGCP), an open-pit mining project that straddles
four provinces in Mindanao, including South Cotabato. TGCP is operated by Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated (SMI).

Answered prayer

“This court ruling is an answered prayer. The decision comes at a propitious time when our natural resources need the most protection, when the natural environment is threatened by human actions. The Church is currently celebrating the ‘season of creation,’ which invites Christians across the world to pray and care for nature. The Church remains steadfast in its mission to safeguard nature and to oppose projects which desecrate what God created,” said Fr. Jerome Millan, of the Tampakan Forum, a coalition of solidarity groups opposing the TGCP.

“The court decision affirms the autonomy of local governments over the stewardship and protection of the environment as enshrined in law,” said
Maya Quirino, advocacy coordinator of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines.

“At a time when there are contentious national policies that threaten to further exploit our natural resources and erode people’s right to a
balanced and healthful ecology, this decision is heartening and gives courage to other local governments to follow suit. This mammoth project threatens a critical biodiversity area and could displace communities,” she said.

Terminated agreement

The local court decision was issued on the heels of the termination of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Municipality of Tampakan and SMI. In a resolution signed on 10 August 2020, the municipality said that the agreement was “disadvantageous to the residents of Tampakan and unduly ties the hands of the local government of Tampakan as parens patriae [a principle that political authority carries with it the responsibility for protection of citizens] to protect its people and the environment.”

Rene Pamplona, who heads the Convergence of Initiative for Environmental Justice, similarly welcomed the decision of the local court. “It is reassuring to know that a local court has sided with local communities. We oppose the Tampakan mining project because it poses a threat to our way of life, our food and water sources, and our livelihoods. This court ruling, and the recent decision of the local government to terminate its agreement with SMI, give us hope that the project will be finally stopped,” he said.

High ecological values

A risk-mapping assessment by the Environmental Science for Social Change and World Resources Institute found that TGCP “belongs to an area of high ecological values (which comprise protected areas, primary forests, mangroves, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites), high groundwater vulnerability (very likely affecting groundwater quantity and quality), medium-high vulnerability to watershed stress, medium social vulnerability (based on functional literacy, welfare and NGO/people’s organization membership), and high seismic risk.”[i]

TGCP covers an area of around 10,000 hectares, of which portion includes rainforest and agricultural land that will be cleared for the project. This, according to the same ESSC study, “will remove topsoil and destroy wildlife in an area with high unique biodiversity, with over 1,000 floral species and 280 recorded fauna species, of which 30% are endemic to the Philippines, and over 50 species are already under threat of extinction. The excavation itself will break into, disrupt, de-water and degrade the aquifer in the area.”

Meanwhile, in July 2020, the Office of the President had restored the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) of TGCP.[ii] The ECC for TGCP had been cancelled by then environment secretary Gina Lopez due to numerous violations. The Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) No. 02-95-XI issued by the National Government in favor of SMI on March 22, 1995 expired on March 21, 2020. Meanwhile, the DENR has issued a statement that mining will be pursued as an economic recovery strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic.[iii]

An alternative mining bill

The local court decision, as well as the environmental code of South Cotabato, could receive further legal protection with the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, still pending in Congress.

“A local government choosing to close off an area to mining must be enshrined in a national law. The Alternative Minerals Management Bill provides for declaring a list of ‘no-go mining zones’, or areas where mining is disallowed. Ordinances which prohibit mining in local areas is part of this list. A local court affirming the jurisdiction of a local government in the care of the environment is an encouraging sign for local governments across the country who wish to pass a similar measure,” said Quirino, who also coordinates the SOS Yamang Bayan Network, a multi-sectoral alliance of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, faith-based groups, youth, and artists pushing for the AMMB.


[i] See Opening the Tampakan Box. Environment Studies for Social Change.

[ii] See report on the restoration of TGCP’s ECC here:

[iii] See statement of the DENR on mining as an economic recovery strategy here:

Green group welcome local court’s decision to ban open-pit mining in South Cotabato

Alyansa Tigil Mina statement

16 October 2020

Quezon City – Ayansa Tigil Mina (ATM) welcomes the ruling of a local court to recognize and uphold a local government’s ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato. Acting Presiding Judge Vicente Pena issued his ruling last Oct. 13, 2020.

Pena concluded that Sec. 22 of Ordinance 04, Series 2010 entitled “An Ordinance Providing for the Environment Code of the Province of South Cotabato”, which put a ban on open-pit mining in the province was “not invalid and rather legal and consistent” with other laws and even the Constitution.

Our alliance believes that this is a very good start to develop further a jurisprudence on protecting our forests, watersheds, and other natural resources from further destruction of large-scale, open-pit mining.

We call on President Duterte to seriously study this court decision and to issue his Executive Order to ban open-pit mining in the country. It is important to remind the President that this was his campaign promise in 2016, and he has even publicly stated on several occasions that he will issue this order to control the destruction of the environment.

ATM also expresses our deep frustration today with the government’s drive to open up more mining projects for economic recovery from COVID19. We reject the recommendations to re-open existing mines and the plan to sell idle mining assets.

We do not share the misleading perception Dept. of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez that opening more mines will bring additional jobs, increase government revenues, and expand tax collection. History and statistics are on the side of environmental defenders – mining has insignificant contributions to the Philippine GDP, whether we look in the very recent past 3 years or if we review economic data from the past 30 years.

Our alliance gives our full support and commitment to the Tampakan Forum to prevent the opening and operations of the Tampakan Gold and Copper Mine project, in South Cotabato, owned by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI).

We believe that this mine project does not enjoy broad community support, it violates several environmental laws including NIPAs and our Forestry Code, and has not resolved conflicts with agrarian reform beneficiaries and the B’laan indigenous communities within the proposed mining area. Former DENR Sec. Gina Lopez has canceled the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of this mine project and has been illegally re-instated by DENR without a clear explanation or valid justification.

In addition, the mining contract (Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement or FTAA) for Tampakan was illegally extended for twelve years last 2016, without the necessary requirements for such an extension and only approved by the MGB Director at that time.

Finally, we call on the DENR to exercise due prudence and disallow more mines to open and destroy our remaining forests and watersheds. Allowing more mines will result in more deforestations and exacerbate climate change. With. Habitat loss and climate image impacts, the behavior and biology of animals and insects will evolve new diseases and contribute to pandemics. We must learn the bitter lessons from this pandemic.

We renew our commitment and solidarity with the mining-affected communities, the indigenous peoples, and the Church, as we close this Season of Creation. We must not allow the Tampakan mine and all other destructive large-scale mining projects to proceed. We must protect our forests and watersheds, and re-kindle our connections with nature and fellow humans. #

For more details, pls contact:

Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator


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