MAC: Mines and Communities

The aftermath of another mining disaster in the Philippines

Published by MAC on 2011-05-10
Source: Mindanao Examiner, Philippine Star, Mindanews

Another landslide has tragically swept away small-scale miners in the Philippines, in the gold rich Compostela Valley on Easter (Good) Friday. Even as rescuers struggled through the mud, the military were destroying the miners' houses to stop them returning - and arguments over mining became re-ignited.

Local and national government are looking at how they can regulate, or more likely ban, small-scale miners from dangerous areas. However, as the Catholic Church and environmental NGOs point out, the government is still seeking to license large-scale miners in place of the artisanal miners: how much better would these companies be in dealing with such difficult tropical conditions?

The disaster  happened in the region of Xstrata's planned Tampakan project (and close to the area where Russell Mining is struggling to mine - see Philippine campaigners are not on Minister's page).

The companies involved in Tampakan continue to lobby for lifting  the open-pit mining ban that would affect the project. It has also occurred on the island where tribal leaders have recently reiterated their call for the end of large-scale mining activities, believing it will lead the destruction of ancestral domain, environment, and life.

At the same time the national government was responding to the tragedy, it was cancelling the license of Canadian MBMI Resources, to mine in Palawan. Although apparently a victory for the groups fighting mining on the island, the full details need to be clarified (and the company is appealing the cancellation).

Rescuers abandon search for victims, bodies in Philippine landslide

Mindanao Examiner

1 May 2011

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Philippine authorities have finally abandoned Sunday after a week of futile search for possible survivors and bodies buried deep beneath a landslide that hit a mining community in Compostela Valley province, officials said.

An aerial view of a shanty town buried by a landslide in a mining area in Kingking village of Pantukan town
An aerial view of a shanty town buried by a landslide in a mining
area in Kingking village of Pantukan town. Source: Reuters

Officials said a total of 14 bodies had been recovered and that 13 people were rescued since the landslide hit the village of Panganason in Pantukan town on April 22. "We have stopped the rescue and retrieval operations. There is no more we can do. The site is a dangerous now and earth is not stable anymore," Army Major Rosa Maria Cristina Manuel, a spokesperson for the 10th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

She said at least 9 people are still missing. "There are tunnels beneath the mountain, but it's too dangerous to continue the search for the missing. Every time it rains, rescuers would run for safety for fear that the mountain would again collapse or the rain will trigger another landslide," Manuel said.

The landslide buried more than a dozen houses at the mountain slope, mostly owned by small-time gold miners. Many of those at the foot of the mountain had been ordered evacuated after fissures were discovered in the mountain.

Manuel said at least 110 houses were demolished last week by their owners after local government authorities issued an ultimatum for them to leave the area. Many of those who were evacuated have been brought to temporary shelters in the town. "Relief goods from different donors were distributed to the evacuation centers," she said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Permanent closure of mining sites in South Cotabato eyed

Philippine Star

26 April 2011

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines - The provincial government of South Cotabato is considering the permanent closure of at least three small-scale mining sites in T'boli town due to their vulnerability to landslides and other mining-related geohazards.

Governor Arthur Pingoy Jr. said a technical team has conducted safety inspections on the mining sites at the gold rush village of Kematu in T'boli, where they recommended permanent stoppage of the operations in the area.

He said the technical team, which was composed of personnel from the Provincial Environment Management Office and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 12, also urged the immediate closure of the existing mine tunnels due to serious safety concerns.

"A significant portion of the mining area had long been considered as high-risk to geohazards and the situation there has worsened during the last several years mainly due to the reported abuses by some mining operators," the governor said.

The provincial government earlier suspended all small-scale mining activities in T'boli town after four miners were buried alive in a landslide last Mach 30.

Geology experts of the MGB-Region 12 had identified Kematu as a high-risk area based on its geohazard mapping.

Jaime Flores, MGB-Region 12's chief geologist, said their earlier assessment showed that the mining sites in Barangay Kematu were deemed as high risk due to the soft and loose soil quality and the steepness of the area.

He said such condition was compounded by the continuing "banlas" or sluice mining activities that already resulted to the devastation of several mountains in the area.

Sluice mining, which had been declared as illegal, is a method that employs the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain's surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ores.

Kematu is the site of the declared Minahang Bayan or people's mining site where small-scale mining operations have been active for over a decade now.

The mining area is within the disputed 21 hectares of the gold-rich village that are covered by the mining concession of the Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corporation (TMC).

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had issued a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement or MPSA to TMC covering some 84 hectares of the area.

Pingoy said he will convene the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) this week to discuss the situation in Barangay Kematu and the recommendations of the technical.

He said they will invite mining operators, local officials and other stakeholders of the mining area to a dialogue to discuss possible scenarios in case the area would be permanently closed down.

"We will tackle all issues and concerns pertaining to the proposed permanent closure of the mining sites. The biggest challenge here that we need to address is the issue on the livelihood of the local miners and residents," the governor added. (PNA)

Acosta: Review small-scale mining, no to blanket mining ban

By Walter I. Balane


28 April 2011

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/27 Apr) - Former Bukidnon congressman Neric Acosta, who has been reported to be the next environment secretary, said the landslide in Pantukan, Compostela Valley is an eye-opener for a review on the small-scale mining operations in the country and has proposed a suspension of mining in critical areas like Diwalwal, Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

Acosta told MindaNews what happened in Pantukan will likely happen in other areas so mining must be stopped "until the areas are cordoned well and the residents are safely relocated."

The site in Sitio Panganason-B, Barangay Kingking in Pantukan, Compostela Valley where a landslide occurred Friday has been closed to human occupancy after the local government ordered Sunday the forced relocation within 48 hours of the 112 families living in the area.

Thirteen people died while 11 others are still missing as a result of the landslide.

Acosta gave the keynote speech in place of President Benigno Aquino III during the Bukidnon Watershed and River Basin Forum at Bukidnon State University today.

He said there must be a change in paradigm in looking at the environment, stressing that there must be a balance between the economy and the ecology.

"But the economy is a subset of the ecology. If you destroy the environment, you also destroy the economy," he added.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo earlier this week called for a moratorium on all mining operations until "an efficient monitoring and control system had been put in place".

He said the government should address "loopholes" in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 before allowing both small miners and giant firms to exploit mineral resources.

Acosta said Diwalwal is a particular example of a small scale mining area that should already be stopped after what happened in Pantukan.

"We must be able to put the full power of the state to secure the area and see what the hazards are," he added.

But Acosta said the concern should be addressed on a case-to-case basis. He said he is against a blanket moratorium on mining in the Philippines because it has serious economic repercussions.

Acosta said it is difficult to be hasty about the situation by opting for a nation-wide ban. The country has at least 22 large scale mining tenements.

He said he has "serious reservations" in pursuing the small scale mining operations, that is why it is important to review the policies.

He admitted that it will create conflict with the local government units, who have authority to issue mining permits.

"It will be a review by LGU. It is a matter of making local government units more responsible about mining in their areas," he added.

Acosta proposed three-layered bases for review: on governance, environmental and social justice considerations.

He said the first concerns with policing, enforcing, and governance which is the turf of the Department of Interior and Local Government. He said cordoning and relocation is a concern for the DILG.

The next layer of considerations is on the environmental side and is the turf of the DENR, which concerns on whether the operations comply with environmental conservations such as on clean air, watersheds, forest protections, among others.

Acosta also spoke of social justice considerations like the provision of alternative livelihood and welfare of the affected communities. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)

Church urges Aquino to issue moratorium on mining activity

Sun Star Manila

25 April 2011

IN THE wake of the tragic landslide in Compostela Valley, a Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) official strongly urged President Benigno Aquino III to issue a moratorium on all mining operations in the country.

According to CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) Chairman Bishop Broderick Pabillo, mining operations in the country should be suspended as long as there are risks that have yet to be addressed.

"Itigil na muna (ang mining operations)... At hindi lang sa Compostela Valley kundi sa lahat ng probinsiya," said Pabillo in an interview. "Dapat naman i-ban muna nila hanggang hindi maisaayos. I-ban muna nila for the meantime."

Last Friday, a landslide hit a small-scale mining site in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, killing eight people, injuring 13, and leaving 15 others missing.

Search and rescue workers on Sunday said chances are already slim that they could still find more survivors.

After the tragedy, Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy immediately sought the implementation of a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations in the province.

The prelate said there is no reason for Aquino not to suspend mining operations since there is no immediate need for it.

"Hindi dapat sila magmadali sa mining kasi hindi naman nawawala resources diyan e. Habang tumatagal, andun pa din naman yung mga resources dun. Hindi kailangan magmadali," opined Pabillo.

The CBCP has long advocated for a moratorium on mining activities as indicated by a pastoral letter it issued back in November 2008.

"It calls on a moratorium on mining activities until the government and the mining companies learn to uphold the right of the indigenous peoples, compensate the affected communities for past damages, and ensure responsible mining practices," said the CBCP pastoral letter signed by then CBCP President Archbishop Angel Lagdameo. (AMN/Sunnex)

Mining operations in the Philippines alarm environment groups

Mindanao Examiner

30 April 2011

DAVAO CITY - A Filipino environment coalition called ‘Panalipdan Mindanao' said the Aquino government should stop pushing for large scale mining operations in the country following the deaths many villagers in a landslide that hit a mining community in Compostela Valley's Pantukan town.

The group lamented the deaths of more than a dozen people and said Manila should think twice before pushing allowing liberalized large scale mining and other activities that pose threats to communities. In a news conference in Digos City that coincided with Earth Day, the group said Aquino should heed the Pantukan incident as a warning.

"It is the irony that the Aquino administration pursues liberalized large-scale mining which brings about far greater effects of waste spilling, denudation of forests, and depletion of water resources. The government's eleven priority large-scale, open-pit mining projects in Mindanao promise to be exponentially destructive," it said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

"The Pantukan incident showed the dangers posed by the mining industry and stressed the need for government to regulate small scale mining along nationalist development goals," it said, adding that Aquino's Mindanao 2020 program is potentially damaging since it promotes industries that destroy natural resources.

Sister Stella Matutina, Secretary-General of Panalipdan Mindanao,' said what Filipino communities need is food security rather than so-called development projects that damage resources, such as mining, hydro and coal-fired plants, and agri-business expansion. "Such projects have shown its negative impact towards communities, harming their sources of livelihood," she said.

Hundreds of people from various organizations have attended Panalipdan Mindanao's Earth Day conference from April 25 to April 27.

Senate bill seeks increase in excise taxes on mining, quarrying

By Christina Mendez

The Philippine Star

25 April 2011

MANILA, Philippines - In a bid to help the national government generate more revenues and address the problem on the shortage of classrooms in several provinces, Sen. Ralph Recto is pushing for the passage of a bill that will increase the excise taxes on mining and quarrying.

Recto, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, has filed Senate Bill 2754 seeking to increase the excise tax on minerals, mineral products and quarrying, amending in the process certain sections of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997.

In his explanatory note, Recto's bill recommends the increase of the tax imposed on minerals and quarry resources from two percent to seven percent. Although the ad valorem rate guarantees increased tax revenues during periods of high commodity prices, Recto said these increments are volatile.

"With the passage of this bill, the national government can look forward to higher revenues than it has collected in recent years. All things other than the excise tax rates being the same, the government will expect an excise tax collection from minerals and quarry resources amounting to between P1.7 billion to P3.3 billion," Recto said.

Recto explained that the potential revenue from the proposed increased excise tax on mineral products shall be equally divided between the national government and the local government units (LGUs) where the mineral and quarry resources are extracted.

In particular, Recto wants that revenues from the three and a half percent tax on minerals be accrued to the National Treasury, while revenues from the other three and a half percent tax on minerals shall be remitted directly to the LGUs as support for their Special Education Fund (SEF).

With the infusion of additional funds, Recto expressed hope that the perennial shortages of classrooms, tables and chairs, books, teaching aids and other educational materials will be addressed.

In amending the Revenue Code, the senator proposed that all coal and coke shall have a tax of P10.00 per metric ton while a tax of seven percent based on the actual market value of the gross output at the time of removal shall be imposed on mineral products and quarry resources.

"Over the years, the tax rates on some excisable products have remained unchanged. Hence, increments in tax collections from these products come from increases in the volume of removals or the products' prices," Recto said.

Recto noted that the excise tax on non-metallic minerals and quarry resources is imposed based on the actual value of the gross output at the rate of one and a half percent from 1939 to 1977. Then it was increased to three percent until 1994. The rate was reduced in 1994 to two percent of the actual market value or the value used by the Bureau of Customs in determining the tariff and customs duties in the case of importation.

Based on available data, the excise tax collections from minerals and quarry resources were P489.6 million in 2006; P942.1 million in 2007; P660.3 million in 2008; and P718.8 million in 2009.

Recto also said his proposal will help improve the government's efforts to protect the public from the natural hazards caused by mining and quarrying activities.

"The proposed increase in the excise tax on mineral and quarrying activities would not even be commensurate to the natural hazards brought about by mining and quarrying activities to our environment particularly in areas that are rich in biodiversity, in geohazard zones or within the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples," Recto added.

Recto noted in his bill that mineral wastes cause sulfurous dust clouds that result in acid rain. He also outlined that abandoned strip mines are often used as unregulated landfills for hazardous wastes; mine tailings and their associated metal contaminants, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, sodium cyanide; and that zinc can contaminate nearby water sources rendering them useless as sources of food, water, and livelihood.

Mining in upland areas further reduce forest cover and leave a toxic heritage for succeeding generations, the bill said.

"It is hoped that the increase in tax on mineral products will become synonymous to a revitalized and strengthened responsible mining and environmental protection," Recto said.

Mindanao Tribal Leaders Urge Stoppage Of Large-Scale Mining, Dev't Projects

Philippines News Agency (PNA)

26 April 2011

DAVAO CITY -- Mindanao tribal leaders are calling for the stoppage of large-scale mining activities and other development projects leading to the destruction of ancestral domain, environment, and life.

KALUMARAN, or the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao, in a press statement said about 100 tribal leaders made the call at the Datu Bai Conference held at the San Isidro Labrador Parish, Digos City on Monday.

KALUMARAN claimed that large-scale mining, agri-business, and coal fired power plants have encroached in the Lumads' ancestral lands.

The tribal leaders represented various tribal groups among others, Bagobo, Ata-Manobo, Matigsalug, Obo and Manobo in the Davao Region, B'laan and T'boli in Socsksargen, Higaonon, Kaolo, Banwaon and Talaandig in Northern Mindanao, Subanen in Zamboanga Region and Manobos in Caraga.

Datu Duluman Dausay, an Ata-Manobo from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, said the recent deaths in a landslide in a mining area in Barangay Kingking, Pantukan, Compostela Valley will possibly take a repeat if large-scale mining goes full blast.

He said while they firmly oppose mining in Davao Region, local officials fail to show the same resolve.

"It is no longer the destruction of environment, but the destruction of life as well," the tribal leaders said.

Jomorito Guaynon, a Higaonon leader from Bukidnon, said that mining activities do not benefit or contribute to the basic needs of the Lumads.

The tribal leaders said that these projects ultimately earn profit for foreign-owned companies at the expense of destroying the environment, and ultimately the life and culture of Lumads.

"What future do we leave for our generations if our land is gone?" the leaders asked.

Datu Guibang Apoga, Ata-Manobo leader of Talaingod, Davao del Norte called on fellow lumad leaders to continue opposing "development" projects that destroy the environment.

KALUMARAN said there are 18 ethnolinguistic groups in Mindanao with a three million population that experience the common problems of land grabbing, and other forms of harassments resulting from mining and development projects. (PNA)

PH cancels Canadian firm's mining deals

By Riza T. Olchondra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

24 April 2011

MANILA, Philippines-MBMI Resources Inc. of Canada will "fight the government's decision to cancel its Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements over several properties in Palawan.

FTAAs allow full foreign ownership of large-scale mining projects in order to attract investors to the capital-intensive mining industry.

In a statement posted on its website, MBMI said it had received legal advice that the decision handed down by the Office of the President contradicts legal actions "of a similar nature" previously settled by the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

President and CEO Michael T. Mason said the company would file immediate actions with the appropriate courts seeking to overturn the decision.

"MBMI will vigorously fight this decision and defend the company's affiliate's legally issued FTAAs," he said.

The company had started scaling back non-essential activities and will continue activities that conform to Philippine law while defending its rights and legally issued permits, Mason said.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno, meanwhile, said he had not received a copy of the FTAA cancellation order from the Office of the President.

Jasareno said that upon receipt of the decision from the Office of the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-MGB will have to issue a cease and desist order against MBMI, unless the company files a motion for reconsideration.

The FTAAs of MBMI's affiliates were signed on April 12, 2010, and were registered with the DENR on May 31, 2010.

These were formally issued on June 2, 2010, to affiliates of MBMI, Narra Nickel Mining & Development Corp., Tesoro Mining and Development Inc., and McArthur Nickel Mining.

The FTAAs cover the Alpha, Bethlehem and Rio Tuba properties.

MBMI said the decision was made in connection with a case filed by Redmont Consolidated Mines Corp., which has questioned the basis for the granting of the FTAA.

The cancellation of the FTAAs comes just a week after MBMI announced that it had started a drilling program at its Alpha property in Palawan to confirm data needed to expand and define priority areas for continued mining.

"This first phase of drilling is designed as an intensive and systematic exploration program to develop and confirm results to expand the independent Mineral Resource on Alpha," Mason had said in a report on the drilling program. "In addition, the grade control drilling will provide the company and our partners with the required data to continue mining and development of this project."

Earlier exploration activities had identified accessible high-grade, exposed nickel and chrome zones within the 3,200-hectare property.

Partner at odds with Canadian mining firm

By Madelaine D. Cabrera


27 April 2011

Will Canadian mining firm MBMI Resources Inc.'s troubles never end?

Palawan Alpha South Resources Development Corp., owner of the Narra nickel mining property in Palawan, yesterday said it will work for the scrapping of its contract with MBMMI because of the latter's violations of its obligations.

"These contractual violations include the non-payment of millions (of pesos) of operational obligations for over two years as well as royalties due to the mining claims owners," said Roland Rodriguez, representative of Palawan Alpha.

Malacañang this month cancelled the financial and technical assistance agreements of MBMI covering Narra and two other properties, Bethlehem and Rio Tuba, also in Palawan.

MBMI has appealed the cancellation.

Rodriguez said MBMI also has not shown its local partner a copy of the FTAA approved in 2010, audited financial statements and record of taxes paid to the local government.

This despite the fact that MBMI has made seven direct shipments of nickel ore amounting to about $17 million since it started operating the mining claims.

Royalty dues on the shipments amounts to P27 million, Rodriguez said.

"As we seek full payment of royalties and other dues from MBMI, we are also exploring the possibility of talking to other parties who have signified interest in taking over the mining claims operations from MBMI," he added.

Henry Fernandez, Palawan Alpha geology expert, said: "We would like to recover our claims from the use of MBMI because we know that it is a proven high-grade deposit that we feel MBMI is not capable of developing into a profitable venture."

The cancellation of MBMI's FTAAs came after the company's announcement of a drilling program at the Palawan Alpha property, a 3,200-hectare site that has been identified as a high-grade exposed nickel and chrome zone.

The drilling was intended to confirm data needed to expand and define proprietary areas for continued mining.

Michael T. Mason, MBMI president and chief executive, said the company will file immediate action before the courts seeking to overturn Malacañang's decision.

"MBMI will vigorously fight this decision and defend the company's affiliates legally issued FTAAs," said Mason.

The FTAAs of MBMI's affiliates were signed by Malacañang on April 12, 2010 and were registered with the environment department on May 31, 2010.

The FTAAs were issued on June 2, 2010 to MBMI affiliates Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corp., Tesoro Mining and Development Inc., and McArthur Nickel Mining.

The Palace cancelled the FTAAs based on the complaints of Redmont Consolidated Mines Corp., which has staked a claim over the same area held by MBMI.

Australian mining firm says SouthCot's open pit ban best settled through SP amendment

By Bong S. Sarmiento


24 April 2011

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 April) - The Australian company which owns a third of the controlling equity at the Tampakan copper-gold project appeared optimistic that the ban on open pit mining imposed by the Environment Code of South Cotabato will be lifted, saying the preferred settlement should be through the Sanguniang Panlalawigan instead of the courts.

In its 2010 Annual Report released on Thursday, Indophil Resources NL conceded that in an investment environment struggling to recover from the global financial crisis, a new layer of uncertainty, referring to the open-pit ban, was the last issue needed by Indophil's stakeholders.

"While the open pit issue has not been resolved, Indophil remains confident that it will be resolved amicably," company chair Brian Philipps and Richard Laufmann, chief executive officer and managing director, jointly said in the annual report.

Although Indophil noted the support shown by President Benigno C. Aquino III, who had ordered a possible compromise deal to allow the Tampakan project to proceed, the Australian miner said the preferred mechanism for the resolution of the open-pit ban "remains the amendment of the environment code by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan."

Aquino's emissaries through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, however, failed to convince the provincial government to agree to a compromise. The Department of Interior and Local Government had also ordered the suspension of the environment code but this only angered provincial officials.

The Tampakan project is managed by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer, through Philippine affiliate, Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Provincial board member Ernesto Catedral, chair of the joint committees on environmental protection and justice and legal matter, said they have already conducted hearings on the request to review the environment code.

"I asked them (committee members) to submit their positions on writing," he said, adding he has not given them a deadline for submission.

Catedral said the decision of the joint committees would be announced once all the members have submitted their positions.

Last month, South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr., signed the implementing rules and regulations of the environment code, with the open-pit ban remaining a stand-alone provision, meaning it was not issued any guidelines as the provision is very clear.

"I will implement the open-pit ban unless the court nullifies it or the provincial board amends it," Pingoy said.

Without review and express amendment by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the governor has "no ability to vary the provisions of the environment code," Indophil Resources said in its annual report.

However, the open-pit ban would not directly affect the Tampakan project as of now, since the company is expected to start commercial operations by 2016, it added.

Bulk of the copper gold deposits eyed by Sagittarius Mines lies beneath the mountains of Tamapakan town.

The Tampakan project faces opposition from the local Catholic Church and security threats from the communist New People's Army, which on two separate occasions launched successful tactical offensives against Sagittarius Mines.

Indophil Resources owns 37.5% of the 40% controlling equity at Sagittarius Mines, with the 62.5% interest held by Xstrata Copper.

The 60% non-controlling equity shareholders of Sagittarius Mines are the Tampakan Mining Corporation and Southcot Mining Corporation, known as the Tampakan Group of Companies. (Bong S. Sarminento/MindaNews)

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