Black sand mining: eroding livelihoods, destroying communities

‘The impacts of magnetite mining operations in Cagayan Province are an indictment on the country’s flawed mining policies.’- Defend Patrimony Alliance


MANILA — Residents of Cagayan Valley, north of Manila, warned of an ongoing disaster in their province, one that will worsen and affect people more destructively if the Aquino government fails to stop black sand or magnetite mining soon.

Since 2007, residents of eight towns of Cagayan province where there are ongoing black sand mining operations have expressed alarm at the effects of these mining activities. “The effects are now easily seen — houses are crumbling because the sand underneath it are getting eroded; rice fields are shrinking and we are losing harvests as the fields are inundated by saltwater. Fisherfolk are reporting reduced catch. There is no other reason behind all these but the continuing black sand mining in Cagayan River and coastline,” said Ofelia Fuentes of Samahan ng Kababaihan sa Buguey at Sta. Teresita during a press conference Tuesday September 17 in Quezon City.

Community leaders from Cagayan join Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and leaders of other national organizations in urging government to put an end to magnetite mining (Photo by M. Salamat /
Community leaders from Cagayan join Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and leaders of other national organizations in urging government to put an end to magnetite mining (Photo by M. Salamat /

With Fuentes, a hundred other members of various people’s organizations in Cagayan province arrived in Metro Manila last Monday September 16 to bring their demand for immediately stopping the “destructive” magnetite (also known as black sand) mining projects in the province right into the halls of Congress and Malacañang Palace. Grouped under the Federation of Environmental Advocates of Cagayan (FEAC), the Cagayanos were joined by national groups Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), Defend Patrimony! Alliance against Mining Liberalization and Plunder, Taripnong-Cagayan Valley and the Lakas ng Kabataan para sa Bayan-Cagayan Valley (Lakbay CV), among others.

Clem Siriban of Samahan ng Maliliit na Manininda sa Cagayan said in the press conference that the locals of Cagayan have been very vocal in their opposition to black sand mining, but they were being ignored by authorities.

“We have shouted out our No’s to black sand mining in meetings with village officials, but they still came out with resolutions in favor of black sand mining,” Siriban said in Filipino. The organized local communities now claim there is a “collusion” among government officials from village level to the province. They also suspected some legislators representing their province of “protecting” all these allegedly illegal black sand mining operations. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, they said, seems to be one of the biggest protectors, considering that all the hauled off black sand in Cagayan pass through the Enrile-owned Cagayan Special Economic Zone before being exported.

“Thousands of our fellow Cagayanons and no less than Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg have joined our long-standing calls for the revocation of all black sand mining permits in Cagayan. We brought our demands before the Malacañang’s Cagayan Black Sand Mining Task Force, which promised an immediate investigation and stoppage of magnetite mining operations in the area. The people of Cagayan will remain vigilant and will hold Pres. Benigno Aquino III accountable for his office’s promises,” said Isabelo Adviento, spokesperson of local peasant group Alliance of Farmers in Cagayan (Kagimungan), a member organization of FEAC.

Felix Mogado from Pamplona, Cagayan said their town has no black sand mining operation yet, but it has lots of applications, which they have been blocking. “We see the experience in (town of) Buguey, where diggings are just left un-rehabilitated, some were done right beside houses. We don’t want it to happen to our communities. Local officials and those in municipal levels, and higher ups, we know they are there, allowing all these. That’s why we demand an investigation of all involved in local government units, Mines and Geosciences Board (MGB), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Congress, (to probe) if they’re colluding to protect black sand mining operations.”

“At least 53,684 hectares of coastal lands and foreshore areas in Cagayan are currently covered by magnetite mining operations that have, over time, caused the erosion of northern coastline and the riverbanks of Cagayan River. Studies and scientific investigations of magnetite mining areas in the province have concluded that black sand mining operations, regardless of whether they are legal or not, contributed to the depletion of fisheries, salt water and chemical intrusion into the freshwater table, and worsened flooding in coastal and riverside communities,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

An Environmental Investigation Mission (EIM) conducted by the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines alongside various advocacy and sectoral groups on four municipalities of Cagayan Province from September 18-19, 2010, concluded that observed magnetite mining operations along the Cagayan River in the municipalities of Camalaniugan, Lal-lo and Aparri have worsened flooding due to bank erosion. The same was observed in the magnetite mining-affected coastal communities in the municipalities of Gonzaga and Aparri, because of the destruction of sand dunes and the disruption of the coastal sediment budget. The EIM also concluded that magnetite mining contributed to the depletion of fisheries supply. The probe noted observations of locals that fresh water mollusk known locally as Unnok and fish locally known as Ludung were reported to have drastically decreased in supply with the start of black sand mining.

These findings were further confirmed in a 2012 Environmental and Social Risk Appraisal (ESRA) led by Kalikasan PNE last September 8-10, 2012. Fish kills were reported by local fisher folk in the Buguey Lagoon, where 50 percent of their local Malaga cultures perished between January and February 2012. The ESRA also noted that seven out of nine villages they surveyed were manifesting salt water intrusion, foul odor and discoloration and chemical contamination of deep wells and other fresh water supplies. These, in turn, affect their supply of potable water, their agricultural land and crop quality.

Calls for an investigation

Locals of Cagayan said the local office of Mines and Geosciences Bureau in their province officially has ongoing operations to stop magnetite mining operations within the prohibited area, or areas 200 meters from the shoreline. But, according to Adviento, those impacting on their livelihoods and safety are actually the legal mines granted permission by MGB and local governments.

These mines include Lutra Inc., Lian Xing Philippines Stone Carving Co. and San You Philippines Mining Ltd. Inc. “Some of these were only recently given renewed permits to operate, and we find it incredible how these operations have passed the requirements of MGB and LGUs,” said Adviento.

Community leaders from Cagayan explain why large-scale magnetite mining is dangerous to environment, livelihood
Community leaders from Cagayan explain why large-scale magnetite mining is dangerous to environment, livelihood

Residents of Cagayan Valley province trooped Tuesday September 17 to the House of Representatives to seek support for their calls, and to push for legislative initiatives bolstering their campaign against magnetite mining. Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate co-authored House Resolution 300, directing the House Committee on Ecology to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation on the magnetite mining operations’ ecological impacts, as well as suspending or stopping magnetite mining operations while the review is ongoing.

Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate said there is an urgent need to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the participants to these mining operations, and for the government to immediately stop giving new permits. There is a need also to rehabilitate the sites where blacksand mining were conducted, and to compensate communities whose houses, water supply and livelihood were destroyed. Zarate estimates that the costs of destruction and loss livelihood may already be running into multibillion pesos.

Zarate added that at the very least, there is inefficiency, and at worst, collusion, given that there were already cease and desist orders by MGB yet black sand mining still persists. Cagayanos blamed their government leaders from Gov. Alvaro Antonio to their town mayors and village officials for continuing to allow the destructive sand mining despite their opposition. They showed the media copies of documents revealing that in fact, some village officials are in the payroll of black sand mining companies. The Barangay captain gets p15,000/month, each Barangay council members P9,000 per month. Town mayors, said Cagayanos, are the ones who endorse black sand mining for approval of governor.

“The impacts of magnetite mining operations in Cagayan Province are an indictment on the country’s flawed mining policies. Despite the passage of Aquino’s Executive Order 79, the scourge of magnetite mining remained unaddressed – some hide behind small-scale mining permits despite using large-scale machinery and equipment, while others are actual Mineral Production Sharing Agreements legitimized by the Mining Act of 1995. Let us not forget how the Nicua Magnetite MPSA in Leyte caused massive fish kills last year, a disaster waiting to happen in Cagayan unless we put a stop to it,” the Defend Patrimony said in a statement.

Defend Patrimony and other national formations urged the public to support House Bill 171 or the People’s Mining Bill, which Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate has filed to promote environmental safety and reorient the mining industry towards domestic, needs-based economic development. (

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