The Provincial government of Romblon is gearing for a court battle after the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in the island-province ruled to nullify the capitol’s ban on metallic mining in the province.
RTC Judge Ramiro Geronimo, on Jan. 17, granted the petition of Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corp. (SNPDC) to nullify an executive order (EO) issued by Romblon Gov. Eduardo Firmalo.
The EO, issued on Jan. 10, 2011, declared an indefinite moratorium on the exploration, excavation, extraction and utilization of metallic minerals in Romblon.
The same EO paved the way for the cease and desist order that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau issued in September 2011, which stopped Altai Philippine Mining Corp. (APMC) from exploring 1,580 hectares in San Fernando town on Sibuyan island.
The SNPDC, a subsidiary of APMC, entered into a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2009. Local officials in Romblon tagged the MPSA as another “midnight deal” of the Arroyo administration through former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza.
Church groups and environmental advocates have vigorously opposed mining on Sibuyan, also known as Asia’s Galapagos Island because of its rich flora and fauna.
Geronimo, however, declared Firmalo’s EO “unconstitutional,” since nowhere in the 1987 constitution was it stated that the government may prohibit mining activities.
The court also said the EO was “inconsistent” with national laws and that Firmalo “acted beyond his power” when he issued the executive order without a local ordinance.
Firmalo, who was on his way to Sibuyan Island on Sunday, could not be immediately contacted by phone but Provincial Board Member Felix Ylagan said the provincial government would appeal the court ruling.
“The governor said this would be a test case on the autonomy of the local government [from the national government],” Ylagan said on the sidelines of an activity of the Romblomanos in Metro Manila Association held in Cavite on Sunday.
He also said the provincial board is drafting an environmental code that includes a provision to ban open-pit mining in Romblon.
The SNDPC, in a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer, said it was looking forward to “commencing its exploration activities and employing local labor that will provide an economic boost to Sibuyan” after a halt in its operations in 2011.
“The company acknowledges that no mining would take place until a resource has been established and a full environment study has been completed with the involvement of local authorities and the community [without causing] environmental damage,” it said.
The company also noted that the area covered in the MPSA is outside Mount Guiting Guiting, which was declared a natural park on Sibuyan Island.