By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Environmental activist group commends the residents of Romblon island for scoring a victory against mining.
The environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment lauded the recent decision made by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to help enforce a mining ban in the province of Romblon. The group also commends the the residents of Romblon who strongly protested against mining in their province.
“This victory is the fruit of the steadfast and fearless struggle of the Romblomanons against mining. They showed an example of what collective struggle can do and have set another milestone in the people’s struggle against corporate mining from destroying our environment,” said Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, Clemente Bautista, Jr.?
Earlier in January, the Romblon Office of the Governor issued Executive Order No. 1 imposing an indefinite moratorium on all metallic mining in the province after several mining areas, particularly in Sibuyan Island, were tested positive for high levels of mercury concentration. Mercury is a toxic chemical used in mining specifically for separating gold from ore.
Two months later, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Romblon passed a resolution denying social acceptance for Ivanhoe Philippines to conduct mining explorations in Romblon’s Tablas Island. Sangguniang Bayan resolutions from different municipalities also passed similar resolutions opposing all mining applications in their respective towns and in the whole province.
DILG Secretary Jessie Robredo advised local government officials to address not only the problems of effective enforcement, but also the livelihood concerns of residents who will be displaced by the ban – about 500 families in Sibuyan Island whose livelihood are highly dependent on small scale mining.
On the effective enforcement of the ban, the Secretary said he would instruct the Provincial Police Office to strictly implement the ban in cooperation with the LGUs. On the economic side, he assured the delegation that he will help the province secure assistance from different government agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), and the Department of Labor and Employment for immediate and long term livelihood projects.
Romblon officials and civic leaders likewise got the assurance from the DENR that it will not issue any permit to mining applicants in the province.
Romblon residents led by environmental and ecumenical groups have been actively campaigning for a mining ban in their province. Last February 14, 2011, thousands led by the Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining (REFAM) and Alliance of Students Against Mining (ASAM) staged a Valentine’s Day protest action against the proposed mining operation of Ivanhoe Philippines Incorporated in the island of Tablas.
A series of similar protests have led to the filing of House Bill No. 4815 entitled “An Act Declaring the Province of Romblon a Mining Free Zone and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof” by Congressman Eleandro Madrona. The bill has already passed the second reading in the House of Representatives and is projected to be passed when Congress reconvenes next month.
In interviews with the media, Madrona expressed hope that his proposal be enacted into law as soon as possible because a Canadian firm is reportedly applying for a mining permit in Romblon. He said that the residents of Romblon don’t want miners “to destroy the natural beauty of the province.” He said that Romblon should be preserved as an agricultural area because mining will destroy agricultural lands.
HB 4815 prohibits mining and exploration activities, including prospecting for mineral resources, testing, drilling, tunneling, remote sensing, and surveying. It also lays down punishment against violators with imprisonment of six to 12 years and a fine of P100,000 to P500,000.
Bautista said even if HB 4815 is passed into law, the Aquino government should do more to stop irresponsible mining in the province by canceling the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) issued to Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) and its subsidiary Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC) in 2009 to conduct their operations in Sibuyan Island which is a key-biodiversity area.
“We urge Romblomanons to keep their vigilance against attempts by mining companies to operate in their province and call for the cancellation of the permit issued to APMC. Let us continue this struggle in memory of Armin Marin and dozens of others who died or were enforcedly disappeared because of their advocacy against plunder by large scale corporate mining,” he said.
Armin Marin was a councilor in San Fernando, Sibuyan who opposed the nickel mining operations in the island. On October 3, 2007, Marin was shot by the mining company’s security guard during a protest rally against mining operations, resulting to his death. Kalikasan PNE noted that there are already 33 anti-mining activists killed and two (2) were victims of enforced disappearance from 2001-2011. Included in the list is Dr. Gerry Ortega of Palawan, where indigenous tribes and local communities are also struggling against mining operations.
“The Aquino government should also declare a large-scale mining moratorium on critical biodiversity areas such as forest and marine ecosystems in Palawan, Batangas, Albay, South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Zamboanga del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Negros Island and Samar Island. Indigenous peoples, peasants, religious and environmentalist groups should remain vigilant as the Aquino regime continues to push mining liberalization and sell our minerals to foreign investors,” Bautista said.
Black-sand mining in Cagayan Province
In a separate but related development, Kalikasan-PNE Environmental have also re-issued a call against black sand mining which the group said was getting worse and has been destroying marine ecosystems. The group appealed to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to investigate the mining of magnetite or black sand which is reportedly being extensively mined and exported from the province.
Clemente said Enrile’s quick action on the issue of black coral poaching and smuggling was laudable, but the senator’s silence on the black sand mining in his province was a cause for curiosity
“Magnetite mining has happening for the last few years and the mining operators have done serious damage to the livelihood of fishing communities as well as to delicate marine ecosystems in Cagayan province. It’s unlikely that good senator knows nothing about this,” he said.
Residents of Aparri, Buguey, Lallo, Camalaniugan, and Gonzaga of Cagayan province have been continually complaining about the magnetite mining operations that have caused destruction of crops, diminished fish catch, community inundation, river banks erosion, and related human rights violations in Cagayan. Thousands of people have already protested in the past months calling for the stoppage of black sand mining operations. All the magnetite mining operations in Cagayan are owned by Chinese and South Koreans investors.
According to reports by Kaduami, Inc., offshore mining of magnetite in Cagayan can increase vulnerability to floods as magnetite holds the sand together. The absence of magnetite in the sand can deplete and erode the coastal and near-shore areas as the experience of Bauang, La Union had shown. Bauang municipal government is now putting up seawalls as a mitigating measure for possible flooding.
Clemente said that Enrile must prove his intervention on the black coral and marine wildlife poaching in Zamboanga City is beyond grandstanding. Black sand mining permits are usually given by provincial governments despite the existing ban on black sand mining under Batas Pambansa 265 which intends to protect marine and coastal ecosystem from the destruction brought about by mining in coastal areas.
‘We strongly urge Senator Enrile to lead investigations on black sand mining in Cagayan and other provinces in the country. If he’s genuinely for the protection of our marine environment and coastal communities, he’ll get to the bottom of this and see to the prosecution of the culprits behind marine degradation and black sand mining in Cagayan. Sen. Enrile should start defending the shores and marine resources of his backyard from foreign plunderers and corrupt officials,” he said.
Kalikasan-PNE also said that human rights violations related to the operation of the magnetite mining companies have also been reported. Three people have already been killed allegedly because of their active opposition against black sand mining.
Gensun Agustin, leader of an anti-mining group in Buguey, Cagayan, was killws in March 1, 2010. Last April 30, thousands of local residents of Gonzaga, Cagayan were dispersed by the combined police and regional mobile groups to stop the protest action against black sand mining. Some 2,000 residents also held a protest last March 19 in Batangan, Gonzaga in Tuguegarao against the entry of the Beijing-based Huaxia mining firm. The company was issued a mining permit covering 20 hectares for magnetite sand mining that covers residential and coastal areas.
Currently, there are at least three magnetite mining companies in Cagayan operating along the shores of the Cagayan River, along the coastal areas of Appari, Buguey, Gonzaga and Sta. Ana. Defend Patrimony Alliance, a national and multisectoral network against plunder of mineral resources, received reports on black sand mining that are legally or illegally operating in the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Norte, Pangasinan, La Union, Zambales, Batangas, Albay, Bohol, and Samar.
Clemente said that if Enrile calls for an investigation, his group is prepared to provide evidence and witnesses.
“An investigation could also clear the allegations that the Senator and his family are protecting destructive mining in Cagayan,” Bautista said.
In the meantime, reports from the fishers’ group Pamalakaya Pilipinas stated that DENR secretary Ramon Paje is currently processing the applications of black sand giants like Nicua Corporation which will cover 5,390 hectares of coastal areas in the towns of Tanauan, Tolosa, Julita and Dulag in Leyte; Kando Mining Company; 3,945 hectares (Dulag, Mayorga and Julita towns in Leyte), Rushfield Mining Company; 5,309 hectares (Palo, Tanauan and Tacloban City, Leyte) and Minoro Mining and Exploration Corporation; 6,375 hectares (Alang-alang, Sta. Fe, Jaro, Pastran and Palo, Leyte).
The other exploration firms currently operating are Citygroup Philippines Corporation, 1,694 hectares (Caibiran, Biliran and Naval in Biliran), Asian Mines Incorporated, 769 hectares (Motiong, Samar), Bridestone Mining and Development Corporation; 7,252 hectares (Hinunangan, Hinundayan and Silago, Southern Leyte), Lazarus Mining Corporation; 6,205 hectares (Carigara and Capoocan, Leyte), Oregon Mining and Development Corporation and 5,099 hectares (Babatngon and Barugo).
Grand Total Exploration and Mining Corporation; 11, 686 hectares (Babatngon, Barugo, Carigara and Capoocan, Leyte) and another application covering 5,752 hectares in the municipalities of Biliran, Cabucgayan, Caibiran, Culaba and Leyte, all in Leyte), Mt. Mogan Resources and Development Corp; 3,022 hectares (Dulag, Leyte), another 15, 781 hectares in Tanauan, Tolosa, Dulag, Mayorga, MacArthur and Abuyog, and another Morgan exploration involving 25,312 hectares covering the coastal towns of Basey, Marabut and Tacloban City and Hedlite Mining Corporation; 3,945 hectares (Dulag, Julita and Mayorga in Leyte).