By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Environmental groups in Batangas are crying foul against dramatic actor and Batangas Provincial Board member Christopher de Leon ’s alleged support for mining operations in the region.
Saying that the recent tragedy of Typhoon ‘Sendong’ remains fresh in the minds of many, the Bukluran Para sa Inang Kalikasan (BUKAL) is appalled over how the local government has already approved and endorsed the operations of destructive large-scale mining in the province.
Bukal officials said they received a letter from the office of Governor Vilma Santos-Recto inviting its members to a meeting to discuss mining in Batangas. Earlier on, the group came upon a report released by CrazyHorse Limited, a Canadian Mining firm venturing in Gold-Exploration Project in Taysan, claiming that the firm has already secured the endorsement and approval from the Provincial Board. The endorsement, the company said, was settled May 11, 2011 through the passage of Provincial Board Resolution no. 253.
It was only on January 24 this year, however, that Bukal formally acquired copy of the resolution. The group was particularly dismayed to discover that despite the many dialogues it held with different institutions, churches, schools and communities and alongside officials of the local government, the controversial resolution was still passed.
De Leon, who stands as the head of the Provincial Environment Committee, is now seen as the main proponent of the resolution allowing large-scale mining in Batangas.
“We are disappointed with de Leon’s hypocritical stand toward protecting the environment. During a Church-Leaders Forum Dialogue in March 3, 2011 where he was represented by his Chief-of-Staff, de Leon all but made a commitment to include Bukal’s call for a mining moratorium in the draft of the Provincial Environment Code. A month before this, we had also raised our concerns against large-scale mining in Batangas to de Leon himself, said the group’s lead convenor Fr. Oliver Castor.
Castor said it is now crucial that the people of Batangas know that the actor turned politician is the official primarily responsible for allowing large-scale mining operations in Batangas. He and all the other members of the provincial board unanimously supported the said resolution and betrayed their constituents by ignoring the clamor to save Batangas from environmental destruction,” he said.
Aside from De Leon, Bukal also named board members Carlos Bolilia and Rowena Sombrano-Africa as traitors to the public interest.
In the meantime, Governor Vilma Santos is also set to meet with anti-mining advocates. Bukal and its allied groups challenged the official to take a stand for the environment.
“After the Provincial Sangguniang Panlalawigan opened Batanas to large-scale mining, we hope that Gov. Santos will take a stand and side with the people in protecting Batangas. We hope that she will not ally herself with enemies of the environment and by side with the provincial board,” he Castor said.
“Mining will not bring development to Batangas. It will, however, hamper economic development in the province because it does not coincide with the province’s economic program and will even threaten the local agriculture and tourism industries.
The Batangas local government’s move to allow mining operations in the province goes against the national government’s supposed policy on a moratorium on mining earlier in 2011. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has repeatedly made the claim that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has not lifted the moratorium and that he himself has not issued new mining permits.
Covered in the DENR’s moratorium order 2011-01 are matters involving exploration permits, mineral production sharing agreement, the provision or necessity of seeking financial or technical assistance, as well as the need for companies to apply for industrial sand and gravel permits.
Included as well in the order are exploration contracts that have already expired in the last five years, and mining contracts that have not been implemented in the last two years after they became effective.
Environmental groups, however, have not been convinced of the DENR’s supposed stand to protect the environment against the ravages of irresponsible and large-scale mining. Last October alone, Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) renewed 10 exploration permits. It justified the renewal by saying that the process was begun even before the moratorium was in effect.
The MGB cleared for operations and exploration companies Cessmag Development Inc. in Misamis Oriental, the Coolabah Mining Corp. in Nueva Vizcaya, the Cordillera Exploration Company in Abra, Egerton Gold Philippines, Inc. in Batangas, Masbate 10 Philippines Inc. in Masbate, Mineral Treasures Mining Corp. in Zambales,Pacific Metals Canada Philippines Inc. in Tacloban City and Leyte, Red Earth Mining Corp. in Nueva Vizcaya, Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat and the UP Mines Inc. in Southern Leyte.