Mining despoils Surigao del Norte

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The New People’s Army’s well-executed raids last Monday on three mining firms in Claver, Surigao del Norte razing a smelting plant, 28 heavy equipment, 132 dump trucks and nine barges, but not physically harming or killing anyone has provoked all kinds of reactions.

One good outcome: the incident spotlights the dire consequences of mining operations in the area since 1989 that should jolt the government, and the Supreme Court, into taking urgent positive action.

The policy of opening up the country to foreign mining firms needs rethinking, pronto.

Failure of the state security forces to stop the NPA attacks, which “dismayed” President Aquino, is a relatively minor issue. Beefing up security around the mines will not solve the problems that prompted the NPA attacks.

More compelling are the issues raised by the indigenous peoples and environmentalists against the mining companies including the three that were raided: Taganito Mining Corp., Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp., and Platinum Group Metals Corp.

The companies are accused of: 1) degrading the environment, and 2) dispossessing the communities of their lands and water resources, ruining their cultural heritage, and withholding royalty fees due to them.

Raising the ante further, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, with whom the government is engaged in peace talks, vows to ban mining corporations “that destroy livelihood, the environment, and the aspirations for industrial development, and violate the rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples and the entire Filipino nation.” (The NDFP is pushing national industrialization, including mining policy, in the socio-economic reforms agenda at the negotiations scheduled in a few weeks in Oslo, Norway.)

Last May 30, the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao filed at the Supreme Court a petition for a “writ of kalikasan,” a novel judicial remedy initiated by then-Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno to aid people who are aggrieved by environmental degradation.

The petitioners urge the SC to issue a Temporary Environment Protection Order (stop mining operations) against TMC, PGMC, Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., Shenzhou Mining Group Corp., and Marcventures Mining Development Corporation. They charge these firms with “destroying and polluting (their) ancestral domain… by failing to provide proper siltation venues for their nickel mines, thereby irreversibly damaging marine resources, mangroves, corals and creating serious health risks… to the tribes and inhabitants of the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.”

As proof, the petitioners cite the UP Natural Science Research Institute finding that the water and soil samples taken from rivers and water systems near the mines contained nickel levels that far exceed the maximum acceptable level of nickel in drinking water set by the Department of Health and the Bureau of Food and Drug Administration.

The Supreme Court’s action on the urgent petition is anxiously awaited.

Leaders of the Mamanwa tribe in Claver, interviewed by the Philippine News Agency, affirm the “continuing injustice” their communities suffer because of the mining operations.

Datu Alfredo Olorico and Datu Totoy Bago lamented: “Our hope for peaceful living has gone. Our rivers that we used to fish and swim in and to irrigate our farms are gone… Our clean shores with crystal-clear waters… the forest, mountain springs that provided fresh potable water, all gone. What is left is harmful pollution and total environmental degradation.”

Overall chieftain Datu Heidi, holder of the Mamanwa ancestral domain claim, avers the mining firms have not paid P160 million in law-mandated royalty fees, representing one percent of their net income. From 1998-2010, the mining firms allegedly remitted only P43 million of the more than P200 million due to the communities.

Even the Internet provides evidence confirming the communities’ grievances.

Researcher-editor R. Luis Flores (user name @Liquid Druids) has blogged an incisively critical piece titled, “The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte.” It encloses a Google Maps satellite image of Claver’s coastal mountain area with a strikingly reddish hue (which to me looks like a wide gaping wound). This is because, Flores points out, “the entire coastal mountain range is denuded of its forest cover.”

Having observed the area from a distance last September 22-24, Flores adds: “Claver supposedly has the largest iron mineral deposit in the world, and one can surmise that this denudation of the mountains is partly due to the mining activities that has gone on in the past years.”

He asks: Who should be called to account for allowing this to happen?

For good measure, Flores inserts a three-minute video on Barangay Taganito, taken from a moving vehicle last year and uploaded on YouTube by @taureanfate. It shows the denuded mountains, dump trucks running on the dusty road, and four ships (which load the nickel ore) docked at the pier. The note accompanying the video says: “The first time we passed this place, there were still a lot of ‘red mountains’ visible. The second time, almost everything was just flat and lifeless.”

In an update after the raids, Flores remarks: “While I’m no fan of the NPA (in fact I’m very much against it) I feel assured that there are at least people who are actively struggling against the environmental destruction, for whatever reason.”

Paging P-Noy: Take note and act fast.

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