Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 29              August 25 - 31,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Mining in Negros: A Story of Plunder, 
Destruction and Dislocations

As in the rest of the country, mining has stripped bare Negros island’s forest lands and scraped the bottom of the earth in search of precious minerals. Along with logging, it has been responsible for what Negros is today – an island threatened by constant flashfloods and other calamities that have killed thousands of people and inundated countless rural villages.

By Karl G. Ombion and Edgar A. Cadagat

Once abundant with natural resources, fertile soil, vast forest and mineral reserves, riverbeds and seas, the sock-shaped Negros island in central Philippines - home to 3.5 million Negrenses  - is almost the opposite today.

Seen from the air, Negros is a huge denuded island, with forest covers down to only 4% from its 95% forest canopy a century ago. Its rich resources are almost gone, ravaged by massive frontier clearing operations that gave way to monocrop sugar-economy and mining operations. Its people are mainly dependent on the mercy of big landlord-sugar hacienderos who virtually control the island's monocrop economy.

Despite the crisis that hit the industry in the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship, sugar remains the Negros economy’s pillar followed by fishing. Third is mining – an extractive industry as old as sugar production.

But, as in the rest of the country, mining has stripped bare the island’s forest lands and scraped the bottom of the earth in search of precious minerals. Along with logging, it has been responsible for what Negros is today – an island threatened by flashfloods and other calamities that have killed thousands of people and inundated rural villages.

Traditional ‘farming’

Mining has been one of the traditional "farming" activities of the tumandoks in the hinterlands and later by lowlanders. Even before Spanish conquest began in 1521, the Monteses and Remontados in the northern mountains, and the Pintados and Bukidnons in the southern parts, had already engaged in small-scale mining for decorations, farm production tools, and later for trading.

Particularly in the southwest, Negros is extra-rich in mineral resources, especially gold, copper, silver, nickel and molybdenum. Its stock of molybdenum is the largest reserves in the country, estimated at 78%. It is here where big mining companies operated for decades. In other parts, small- and medium-scale mining operations continue.

To date, 610,246 hectares are covered by mining claims. Of these, 508,957 hectares or 91% of the total, are on active production. Mining claims account for 47% of the island’s total land area or 88% of its total agricultural land. This is almost double the total land planted to agri-aqua crops, such as sugar (110,000 has.), corn, rice, coconut, banana and fish.

Local mining insiders and government sources say the average tax remittances of the big mining companies under FTAA and MPSA to the two Negros provinces is P200 to 250 million annually until 1996. Maricalum and Philex alone accounted for an annual average of P20 million and P15 million, respectively, until 1995.

Total MPSA mining claims in the island cover 360,260 hectares. Of these, 290,802 hectares are claimed by 24 operating mining companies under MPSA in Negros Occidental. Biggest among them is the Maricalum Mining Corporation (MMC) with 2,673 hectares in the southern towns of Cauayan and Sipalay. Negros Oriental, on the other hand, has 81 mining claims under MPSA, with total mining claims of 69,458 hectares.These do not include standing FTAA applications, covering 291,697 hectares. The mining claims include those of the Western Mining Corporation (WMC) with 85,000 has. traversing eight towns and one city in central Negros; International Pursuit Philippines, Inc. (IPPI) with 80,872 hectares in Hinobaan-Bayawan towns. In Negros Oriental are Eagle Cement Corporation with 32,277.3761 hectares; Royal Cement and Mining Corporation with 38,584 hectares; and Asturias Chemical Industrial Inc. with 54,963 hectares.As of March last year, two more MPSAs were granted to the Philex Gold Philippines Corp., with 2,268 hectares; and Vulcan Industrial and Mining Corp. with 477 hectares in Hinobaan and 806.57 hectares in Sipalay.

Exploration permits (EPs) were also given to three other companies, namely, the PNOC-Energy Development Corporation (8,969 hectares) in Amlan, San Jose, Sibulan, Pamplona, Sta. Catalina, and Valencia; Altai Philippine Mining Corporation (3,738 hectares) in Amlan, Pamplona and Tanjay.


Contrary to claims by mining companies that they contribute to local and national development, large- and medium-scale mining, especially that using open mining methods, has only led to the plunder of the island’s mountains, forests, rivers and bays; the mass displacement of villages; the dislocation of traditional economic activities such as farming and fishing; and destruction of indigenous communities’ culture.

Environmentalists and peasant groups cite the case of the Maricalum Mining Corporation (MMC) in south Negros as a classic example.

MMC is the oldest and most developed open pit mining company in Negros. It has mining claims of 2,673 has.  in Barangays Cansauro, Hinablan, Tao-angan and Hinablan, of the towns of Cauayan and Sipalay, Negros Occidental.

The company produces mainly copper concentrate apart from gold, silver and molybdenum. Copper concentrates are marketed to PASAR-Philippines and Marubeni Corporation-Japan.

MMC began with less than 1,000 workers in 1949 as Sipalay Mines owned by Jesus Cabaruz. It won its rights to explore, develop and operate 250 mineral claims in Binulig, Cansibit and Baclao in 1955. Under a new name, Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corporation, it started to construct a 4,000 metric tons per day (mtpd) capacity milling and concentration plant and by 1957, commercial mining and milling became fully operationalized with 2,000 mtpd.

By the early 1980s, its workforce peaked to 7,000. Since then, however, production fell forcing its closure and takeover by the Philippine National Bank (PNB) in 1984. Company officials said mass retrenchments had to be resorted to because of financial losses. Until recently, it was maintaining a skeletal force of 150 workers, most of them contractuals.

But mine workers had denounced the lay-offs, accusing management of claiming financial losses to cut production and labor costs and rake in profits.

Other costs

Not only mine workers but also communities in and around MMC’s mining claims have cried foul, citing costs of its operations to their lives and the environment.

The collapse and overflow of the company’s three tailing ponds – which occurred four times during 1982-1996 - damaged more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural lands planted to rice, corn and vegetables. The disasters also uprooted more than 1,200 peasant and fisherfolk families in Barangays Baclao, Tao-angan and Gil Montilla, of Sipalay and Cauayan towns, reports said.  

Because of mining pollution, all major rivers and water sources in these areas and neighboring barangays became non-potable forcing people to buy drinking water in lowland poblaciones at P10 a container, aside from shelling out several more pesos for hauling it back to upland villages. With land and irrigation water contaminated by mine tailings, farm production went down by almost half forcing cash-strapped farmers to use more fertilizers and pesticides and, hence, to further indebtedness.

The years 1996 and 1997 saw several cases of poisoning, skin diseases, and fishkill in many upland and coastal barangays of Sipalay and Cauayan. Investigations by the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), militant organizations under Bayan, and by the local Department of Health (DoH) unit, traced the cases to serious poisoning of the rivers and coastal seas. Water and soil samples tested by the investigative teams revealed high levels of base metals like lead, cadmium, zinc and cyanide.

Particularly during the dry and windy season, villagers would complain of heavy air pollution from suspended dust particles and sandstorms. Only after the villagers, backed by local executives, protested en masse did the DENR issue a cease and desist order (CDO) to MMC.

In retaliation, the MMC retrenched hundreds of workers, and cut off power electricity services to Sipalay.

But mining operations continued – and telltale signs of pollution and health hazards persisted. Last summer, thousands of local residents around the mining areas complained again of lung illnesses. Today, the mining communities are easily mistaken as huge desert.

Meantime, apparently unmoved by such reports and buoyed by the 1996 Mining Code, applications for MPSA, FTAA and EP have increased. WMC, for one, is reportedly pushing to have its application for at least 80,000 hectares of FTAA in central-south of Negros approved. Bulatlat.com

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