By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The cancellation of mining applications is not enough to save Palawan from environmental destruction.
This was the stand of activist environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment in reaction to Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s recent announcement that the government will cancel more than 300 mining applications in Palawan.
Following his visit to the world famous Underground River, north of Puerto Princesa City last February 10, Aquino said the government will no longer process more than 300 applications for mining claims pending at the Bureau of Mines of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). He also said that his government will not approve new applications if the communities do not endorse these projects.
Aquino revealed that there are more than 300 applications for concessions pending at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. These applications cover potential mining areas virtually in the entire Palawan mainland.
Kalikasan-PNE welcomed the president’s decision to cancel the mining applications, but said this has little effect on the Palawan environment because it would not stop the destruction and degradation already being done by the mining projects that are still operating in the island.
“Neither will the president’s decision save the province from more destruction that will be caused by the future activities of mining projects that have been approved but are not yet operating,” said Clemente Bautista Jr., national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
According to reports, Palawan is the last ecological frontier of the Philippines. It has rich flora and fauna. It is home to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park which is a top nominee to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
“Given all this, it’s highly ironic that the province hosts at least ten (10) large-scale mining projects such as the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining, Coral Bay Nickel Mining, Berong Nickel, Macroasia mining and MBMI mining projects. Total mining concessions cover around 38,149 hectares of Palawan as of July 2010. Almost all mining concession areas are considered as biodiversity rich and environmentally critical,” said Clemente.
Some have said that the president’s move was merely a reaction to the initiative launched by civil society groups in Palawan following the recent murder of environmental activist and radio broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega. Various people’s organizations have already launched a campaign to solicit 10 million signatures nationwide to pressure the government to exempt Palawan from mining activities.
The environmental groups also said the president’s previous move to cancel some 500 mining applications all over the country does not automatically protect the environment.
Bautista said that the basis for the cancellation of these permits and applications is not because of its destructive effects on the environment or the human rights violations it engenders on communities covered in the mining claims, but because these permits and applications are either incomplete and aging or just for speculation.
“These applications and permits were revoked to free up the proposed mining areas for new mining applications that are serious in operating. This means that the moment new mining companies that intend to operate are given the go signal, more destruction will come with their operation,” says Bautista.
Meanwhile, Defend Patrimony, an alliance against foreign plunder of our natural resources, also welcomed Aquino’s statement that he will listen to Palaweno’s protests against mining.
“If he can do it in Palawan, then Aquino should also lend his ears to and more importantly, heed the calls of the people in the eight (8) other provinces where the people have long been struggling against large scale foreign mining,” said Pia Malayao, Defend Patrimony Spokesperson.
At least (9) other provinces have active struggles against mining, these are Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Northern and Eastern Samar, Marinduque, Romblon, Capiz and in South Cotabato where a law banning open pit mining was passed by the provincial board but is being blocked by DENR.
“Large scale foreign mining projects, including those approved but not yet functioning, all over the country should be cancelled in order to save not only Palawan but the whole country from environmental destruction and human rights violations caused by the mining operations,” Bautista said.
Valentine’s Day Protest versus Mining in Romblon
Seemingly taking their cue from Pres. Aquino’s decision on Palawan, thousands of Romblon residents gathered on Tablas Island to denounce mining activities last Valentine’s Day. They held picket demonstrations as well as a parade.
In a statement, the Youth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Romblon and Mindoros said they want to awaken environmental consciousness of all the islands’ residents. The protests were specifically against the proposed mining activities by Ivanhoe Philippines Incorporated (IPI).
According to reports, IPI, a subsidiary of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. of Canada has recently applied for a mining permit to explore approximately 14,000 hectares of land in the mountainous region of Tablas in Romblon. Tablas is comprised of four municipalities, namely, Sta. Maria, Alcantara, Looc, Odiongan in the south and San Andres, Calatrava and San Agustin in the north.
The area covered by the application has a critical watershed and forest reserves that provide vital water supply to agriculture, small industries and tap water for human consumption. Local Romblon environmental groups said the watershed areas also provide protection against flash floods that have become a common problem in the lowland areas.
As of 2009, a total of 24 firms have already applied for mining permits in the province, with one (1) Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) permit approved by the DENR. last December 2010. There are also six more active MPSA and 15 Exploration Permit (EP) applications.
Monsignor Nonato Ernie Fetalino, spokesperson of the Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining said the government should also ban all mining applications and operations in Romblon. According to the groups, there has been so much ecological damage because of mining, such as mine waste spillage in Marinduque, Negros Occidental and Benguet.