The 11-day barricade of Sibuyan folk has forced the government’s environment agency to temporarily stop mining exploration activities in the island.
By SINAG JOAQUIN
MANILA – The 11-day barricade of residents of Sibuyan Island in the province of Romblon has forced the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to halt mining exploration activities in the island as it slapped notices of violation to Altai Philippines Mining Corp. (APMC) on Friday, February 3.
In a letter to Hanniel T. Ngo, president of APMC, Arnoldo A. Blaza Jr., officer-in-charge of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office said the APMC violated Presidential Decree 705 Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines as amended by Executive Order 277 and further amended by Republic Act 7161, Section 77 for tree cutting and clearing activities in sitio Bato, barangay España, San Fernando, Romblon (Island of Sibuyan). The notice said the PENRO conducted monitoring on January 18, 2023 and ‘revealed that a number of trees are damaged and cleared, at the exploration site’ of APMC. The notice further said ‘no cutting permit for said trees was presented during inspection.’
In a separate letter dated February 2 and signed by DENR Regional Director (MIMAROPA) Joe Amil M. Salino, the notice said the APMC Causeway Project located in the same village violated Section 4 of PD No. 1586 or the Philippines Environmental Impact Statement System for constructing and operating a causeway project without an approved Environment Compliance Certificate. It stated that item 3.5.3 of EMB MC No. 2014-005 that ’causeway projects with project area less than 15 hectares with reclamation are required to secure an ECC [environmental compliance certificate] prior to project implementation.’
In another letter dated February 1 which was also signed by Blaza, the notice stated that APMC violated two other rules, that on the Water Code of the Philippines (PD 1067) for ‘constructing a decking port and flattening of the proposed roadway by dumping gravel into the water,’ and the DENR Administrative Order 2004-04 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations on foreshore lease agreement (Sec. 2c) and salvage zone (Sec. 2f).
The notices directed APMC to submit a Special Tree Cutting Permit within 15 days and an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) within 10 days. APMC’s mining exploration activites are suspended without the said permits, the notices added.
‘We won, as of now. But we will still hold the line for Sibuyan!’ This was the message posted by Bayay Sibuyanon chairperson and Living Laudato Si’ executive director Rodne R. Galicha on February 4 in the social media microsite Twitter using his handle @kalikasan101 after receiving copies of the DENR’s notices of violations. Galicha, an environmental advocate, has been a prominent figure in the anti-mining movement in Romblon.
The initial victory however, did not come without a price. On February 3, two protesters, including a village councilor, were hurt while protecting the people’s barricade blocking APMC trucks from entering the mining exploration site.
In a video posted by Bantay Sibuyan, Jhay Romero, barangay España councilor who heads the committee on peace and order, expressed his dismay after being manhandled by the anti-riot police force who demolished the people’s barricade. Romero, who wore a torn shirt on the video, said he was handcuffed by the police but was later released.
In a video provided by Alyansa Tigil Mina, the anti-riot police barged into the human barricade to give way to yellow trucks that were used by the APMC for its mining exploration activities. Galicha said during the press conference that the trucks hauled mineral ore from the lands of Sibuyan Island and were brought inside a waiting barge offshore. APMC is poised to extract some 50,000 metric tons of mineral ore for testing, Galicha added.
Public documents obtained by Bulatlat show that APMC entered into a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement with the Republic of the Philippines on December 23, 2009. MPSA No. 304-2009-IVB granted exploration rights to APMC, which covers more than 1,580 hectares of land in San Fernando, Romblon.
Due to criticisms and public protests against the mining exploration grant to APMC, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau released a Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) on September 19, 2011. It took almost 10 years before APMC on October 13, 2020 appealed to the DENR to dismiss the CDO. In a memo dated July 23, 2021, the MGB said the CDO should be dismissed on the basis that APMC was not given a chance to defend itself in court. In less than a year after APMC’s appeal, the MGB on August 26, 2021 released a memo voiding the CDO.
On July 12, 2022, the MGB granted APMC a ‘first renewal of Exploration Period’ which has led to the mining exploration activities that the people of Sibuyan are protesting against.
Barricade stands still
As of February 6, the people’s barricade in sitio Bato still stands albeit APMC’s statement that it ‘decided to voluntarily halt all exploration and testing activities in Sibuyan Island.’
In a recent Facebook post by Galicha, he said they ‘urge the DENR to issue a cease-and-desist order and eventually revoke the mining company’s MPSA.’ He also urged the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Customs to act on the hauled nickel ores and the presence of barges and an alleged international ship in the shores of Sibuyan Island.
Meanwhile, Senator Riza Hontiveros filed a resolution to conduct an inquiry into the nickel and metallic mining activities in the island. (RVO)