By KYLE EDWARD FRANCISCO
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur — Distress continues to plague residents of Caoayan and two island communities of Santa in Ilocos Sur as 12 mining vessels dropped their anchor about 200 meters from the shorelines of Villamar and Poro Island, May 5.
The vessels composed of six dredge vessels with magnetic separators and six barges are allegedly owned by Isla Verde Mining & Development Company and Megaeast Archipelago Resources. The former is operating under a Memorandum of Agreement with the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur to dredge the Abra River while the latter is in agreement with the Municipality of Caoayan for the supposed rehabilitation of the Mestizo River.
The Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur and the towns of Caoayan and San Vicente have long been supporting the extraction of black sand along the coastal areas and riverine areas in the province. Some of the operations have been presented as dredging and rehabilitation of silted rivers.
Residents and civil society organizations, however, doubted the local governments’ explanation regarding the presence of the ships and insisted that the local officials are just using the dredging projects to conduct black sand extraction. The opposition group cited the case against Hong Ze Mining in Tamorong village, Sta. Catalina that claimed to be dredging the Bantaoay River. The company facility was among the mining facilities raided and dismantled by the Inter-Agency Anti-Illegal Mining Task Force (IAMTF) in August 2013 for violating the 200 meters no-mining zone along beaches and for illegally extracting ore and transporting it for marketing.
Since August 2013, there have been several efforts to smuggle blacksand concentrates stockpiled in San Vicente. Some of which have been monitored and foiled through the vigilance of residents and assistance from Ilocos Sur Collective Action for Peoples Empowerment (Iscape) and Social Action Center (SAC) of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia.
Bold, growing opposition
On May 6 residents of Poro, Caoayan gathered at the river bank of the Abra River to protest the presence of the ships and construction of magnetite processing plant in an area just across their island community. The said piece of land is believed to be owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Singson.
The residents filed their complaints and affidavits with the IAMTF during the consultation between the members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the SAC, May 14. Last December, residents from Poro pulled out the suction pipes of nearby dredgers, in response to the local chief executive’s sending of the police to the area.
On May 7, unidentified men fired at the dredging vessels docked about 150 meters from the shores of Villamar. Feng Chao Ching, a Chinese national who owns and operates the vessel discovered the windshield of the control room shattered and found a .45 calibre slug on the floor.
Defend Ilocos Against Mining Plunder (Defend Ilocos) criticized the national government for its incompetence in putting an end to magnetite mining in the region. The group also pointed that such operation cannot exist without the backing and connivance of local officials from the provincial down to the villages. The Iscape and SAC have also expressed their vehement opposition and vowed to bring the said issue to the attention of the NBI.
The first case to be filed against mining companies in Metro Vigan was for the illegal operation of Wellresource Mining Company filed in July 2012 at the Provincial Prosecutors Office. The case was dismissed due to some technicalities. The same case was again filed together with other cases against other companies in October 2013 after NBI raided the facilities of these companies. There is no ruling yet as of this date.
Three cases against individuals caught for stealing blacksand concentrates in San Vicente have also been filed. The attempts to smuggle black sand took place on October 18, 2013 and twice this March. The case against the October 17 attempt was dismissed on December 16, 2013 for lack of evidence. The three truckloads of black sand which was turned over to the Provincial PNP Headquarters disappeared under police custody, thus they failed to present it in court during the trial.
In reaction to the dismissal of the case, BumangonKa Ilocos Sur, posted the on their Facebook page: “The black sand minerals which were subject of theft are not simply black sand extracted, they seized in favor of the state and they are material evidences to a commission of a crime. This is a serious legal matter. It’s like stealing a shabu evidence. These irregularities happen under the political lordship.”
Defend Ilocos also criticized the PNP, saying that what happened was pure incompetence and that administrative charges should be pursued against the personnel involved for obstructing justice. The group also disclosed that they received information that influential politicians intervened in the outcome of the cases against the mining companies.
Attempts to destroy and hide evidence of a mining company’s operation were also monitored. Just this May 14, unidentified individuals tried to dismantle and transport magnetic separators, platforms and conveyor belts seized by the NBI in Caparacadan, Caoayan. They were thwarted when residents reported it to Defend Ilocos and SAC which in turn alerted the authorities.
Call for ‘revolutionary justice’
Residents of affected villages as well as other groups and individuals have expressed their desire for the New Peoples Army to take punitive actions against black sand mining operations in Ilocos Sur like what the rebels did in Cagayan.
“The NPA should also punish the mining companies and their cohorts here in Ilocos Sur like what they did in Gonzaga),” a resident who asked for anonymity said. The resident was referring to the April 21 killing of Mayor Carlito Pentecostes of Gonzaga, Cagayan. Another resident expressed his wish that the rebel group would burn down or blow-up the vessels.
“At this moment, when most of the cases filed against mining companies operating in Metro Vigan have not prospered due to incompetence in handling of evidence by the PNP and political maneuverings, and 12 vessels are presently sucking our minerals offshore, we believe that people will welcome any actions from any group, including from the revolutionary movement to put a stop to this environmental rape and plunder,” posted Defend Ilocos on its Facebook page. (Nordis.net/ Posted by Bulatlat.com)