MANILA, Philippines?The prospects of the $5.2-billion Tampakan mining project received a boost after national authorities stressed the primacy of the 1995 Mining Act over ordinances passed at the local level.
Interior and Local Goverment Secretary Jesse Robredo said the provincial government of South Cotabato did not have the power to ban open-pit mining and should instead review its environmental code that prohibited such mining method.
?The Department of the Interior and Local Government adheres to and respects the principle of local autonomy as enshrined in and zealously protected under the Constitution,? Robredo said in a statement. ?But a local government ordinance that is inconsistent with the Constitution must be struck down.?
According to Robredo, there was a need for the DILG to intervene because the provincial government of South Cotabato erred when it enacted an environmental code that banned open-pit mining.
?The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 does not prohibit open-pit mining,? he said. ?A local government ordinance cannot undo an act of Congress.?
The Tampakan mine is considered as the biggest undeveloped copper-gold prospect in Southeast Asia and is one of the biggest foreign investments in the country.
It is owned by Australian mining firm Xstrata Plc while conglomerate San Miguel Corp. owns a minority stake in the project?s minority partner, Indophil Resources.
The mine is estimated to contain 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold, but the estimated 2016 commencement of its production run remained in doubt because of the prevailing ban.
In a separate interview during his visit to the Inquirer last Tuesday, Robredo took note of the continued opposition of the South Cotabato provincial government to open-pit mining?despite his earlier pronouncement in support of the method?and said that the issue might eventually be brought before the courts, which will then rule on its legality.
According to the DILG chief, provincial boards ?exercise only delegated legislative powers conferred to them by the Congress as the national lawmaking body.?
?Therefore, [they] cannot exercise powers higher than those of the national legislature,? he explained.
The DILG could not take a backseat and be passive whenever a local government unit under its supervision would commit an act contrary to law, Robredo added.
?We are neither in favor nor against mining,? he said. ?We just have to follow the law.?
In a memorandum circular dated Nov. 9, 2010, Robredo directed the provincial government of South Cotabato to review its environmental code.
?As a reasonable and prudent act, the provincial government should immediately suspend the ordinance while it is being reviewed,? he said.
The country has mineral deposits estimated to be worth $1 trillion and the government says attracting foreign investment into sectors such as mining would boost growth.