Philippines: Another natural disaster reignites the mining debate
Shortly before Christmas 2011 the Philippines reconfirmed its reputation for natural disasters when tropical storm Washi (local name Sendong) caused devastation on the north coast of Mindanao. As previously, the cause of much of the catastrophe appears man-made, thanks mainly to the denudation of forest cover on the watersheds.
|View of January 2012 Pantukan landslide. Source: SILDAP|
Although the Philippine mining industry was quick to note there was no large-scale mining that would have directly affected this particular tragedy, the role of mining in the region has been highlighted again. It has certainly highlighted the exemption that allows mining companies to continue logging despite bans put in place after similar incidents. Then on January 5th a subsequent landslide hit a gold-mining area, which is subject to such incidents, with an estimated 25 fatalities. (See: The aftermath of another mining disaster in the Philippines)
This particularly highlighted the potential for widespread disaster at Xstrata's nearby Tampakan project. Perhaps such fears are why a decision on the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) has yet to be made (although the government official making the decision has noted the ECC cannot be issued as long as there is a provincial ban on open-pit mining). The nearby city of Davao has joined other local government units in initiating a ban on mining, which is important given the land area covered by the city boundaries make it one of the largest in the world, but strange timing given its promotion of a huge coal-fired power plant.
In November 2011, such a provincial ordinance to ban open-pit mining threatened to put a stop to TVI Pacific's operations at the Canatuan mine (see: Philippines: Potential new policies, but same old stories). The company has recently gained a preliminary injunction to continue mining, and further court action will ensue.
Finally, as featured on MAC, the struggle against mining in Palawan has become a cause celebre, not just in the Philippines but internationally with millions signing up to a locally-originated petition. A recent article explores how local indigenous campaigners have used the Internet to achieve this level of coverage.
Cancel large-scale mining, Aquino urged
By Rio Rose Ribaya
30 December 2011
MANILA, Philippines - A progressive group Friday dared President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to cancel large-scale mining and logging nationwide in a bid to ensure that deadly floods like the one caused by tropical storm "Sendong," which killed more than a thousand residents in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan will not happen again.
Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Emmerenciana de Jesus said President Aquino does not need to form a fact-finding mission to determine who must be blamed for the Mindanao disaster, saying he only needs to point fingers to the government's inaction on the protection of the environment.
"This is a disaster waiting to happen because of large-scale mining and logging activities in the region," De Jesus.
The lady solon said that while local government units must undertake urgent action in providing relief in Mindanao, the national government must take long-lasting action in preventing similar disasters.
She said that government programs for flood control, environmental protection, and efforts in natural resources conservation are just window dressing if large-scale and logging permits across the country, not just in Mindanao, are not cancelled.
De Jesus explained that the government is committing a large-scale environmental plunder when it continues to tolerate 54 existing Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) in Mindanao covering 125,670 hectares of land.
She also revealed that there are two Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAAs) covering more than 20,000 hectares of land and eight MPSAs covering more than 21,000 hectares in Cagayan Valley while there are 18 MPSAs and 5 EPs in Central Luzon.
"More than 99 mining applications cover more than 51 percent of Mindoro. In Palawan, 14 towns are covered by existing operations and mining applications. In Davao region, 14 MPSA cover more than 35,000 hectares and 1 EP covers 24,600 hectares, and in Compostela Valley, there are five MPSA and two EP," De Jesus said.
Philippines mining landslide 'kills 25'
5 January 2012
At least 25 people have been killed and 150 more are missing after a landslide struck a mining village in the southern Philippines, officials say.
The landslide occurred at about 3:00 a.m. on Thursday morning (19:00 GMT Wednesday) in Pantukan, Compostela Valley province, on Mindanao island.
Civil defence chief Benito Ramos told the BBC it was triggered by "continuous rain" over two days.
A task force is still assessing the actual number of casualties.
Fifteen people have been reported as injured, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said in an update on the incident.
"A military unit is in the area but they are basically digging with their hands," Mr Ramos told the AFP news agency.
He said that a request for heavy equipment from the provincial government and local mining firms had been made to help speed up the rescue.
Small-scale miner Saul Pinggoy said he was woken up by rocks falling onto the roofs of houses.
"It was dark but we decided to move to safer grounds. Hours later, we saw tonnes of soil burying dozens of houses," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
According to Mr Ramos, people have refused to leave the area because they were mining for gold.
Unregulated mining activities have made the mountain area unstable and caused a series of accidents. A nearby village was also hit by a landslide last year that left 14 dead.
Government officials had warned people to move to safer areas but many refused to listen.
Military helicopters are now moving rescue teams from Cagayan de Oro - one of the cities badly hit by Typhoon Washi in December - to Pantukan.
At least 1,249 people are known to have died in flash floods caused by Typhoon Washi, which struck Mindanao late last month.
Tampakan mining project feared to repeat ‘Sendong' tragedy
By Bong S. Sarmiento
25 December 2011
MANILA (MindaNews/24 December) - The devastating flash floods that struck Northern Mindanao and killed at least 1,100 residents on December 17 can be repeated" in Southwestern Mindanao if the large-scale Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) will be allowed to proceed, a local militant group warned.
Tropical storm Sendong (international name "Washi") brought rains that flooded the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and parts of Bukidnon province.
Ryan Lariba, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-SOCKSARGEN secretary general, said that mining and logging ventures in the hinterlands of Mindanao has caused wanton environmental destruction and deforestation.
He urged the Aquino government to refrain from allowing these destructive industries to operate, particularly in Mindanao.
SMI, controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer, plans to go on commercial stream in 2016 for its Tampakan copper-gold project.
The project site straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
Lariba said the tragedies that struck in the National Capital Region in 2009 - Ondoy - and in Northern Mindanao recently would also happen in the region comprising South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato, should the giant company Xstrata-SMI and other environmentally destructive projects continue its operations, according to Lariba.
"We shouldn't allow this to happen in our region as they (will) continue to destroy our environment, mountains, forest and rivers," he said, adding that once Sagittarius Mines is done and will leave, the localities will be vulnerable to disasters and calamities.
Sought for comment on Saturday, John Arnaldo, SMI corporate communications manager, said they have "conducted extensive consultations" with their key stakeholders and communities since 2009 regarding their views and concerns about the project.
"To address these concerns, their feedback has been seriously considered in our plans, designs and mitigating safeguards, which are based on international standards," he said in a text message.
He added that these were presented to their stakeholders and communities during the public consultations for the environmental impact statement held starting the second half of this year.
In earlier interviews, Arnaldo maintained the company would employ stringent measures to mitigate the impact of their mining project to the environment, noting the millions of dollars already spent for studies on the different aspects of the venture.
While still in the exploration stage, Arnaldo pointed out that they have initiated a massive tree-planting project within and outside the mines development site.
On the devastating floods recently in Northern Mindanao, he said the mining firm was saddened by the tragic incident and that they have been doing their share to help the families of the victims.
According to Lariba, the national government has allotted 597,000 hectares for mining in Southwestern Mindanao and the province of Davao del Sur, of which 50,000 hectares will allegedly be used by Sagittarius Mines.
He said the company "has no social acceptability" with the opposition from church-backed groups and even tribal members who have armed themselves out of disgust to the company's presence.
Sagittarius Mines is also facing an obstacle with the open-pit ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government.
Groups supportive of the Tampakan project asked the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato last year to review the environment code for the possible lifting of the ban on open-pit mining method.
To date, however, the board members have yet to render a decision.
South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has maintained that he will implement the open-pit ban unless the provincial legislative body lifts it or if a court nullifies it.
Aside from the political and social obstacles, the Tampakan project is also facing security threats from the communist New People's Army.
On two separate occasions since 2008, the communist guerillas have successfully mounted attacks against Sagittarius Mines. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)
ECC for Tampakan mining project still under review
4 January 2012
TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews/3 Jan) - Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. has failed to secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) last year, as was the target, for its massive Tampakan copper-gold project, a company executive confirmed on Monday.
John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, told MindaNews that the ECC application for the Tampakan mine is still pending and that the company continues to await the government's decision.
He expressed confidence, however, that they can acquire the ECC from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, noting the assurance from Environment Secretary Ramon Paje that his office is "reviewing our ECC application for all its merits and that, according to the secretary, this thorough review ‘will not compromise the project's proposed timetable'."
"We will seek further clarification from the office of Secretary Paje in order to progress the status of our ECC application," Arnaldo said.
Sagittarius Mines, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer, targets to start commercial production in 2016, with an estimated capital requirement of $5.9 billion.
In a disclosure to the Australian bourse last December 29, Indophil Resources, the junior equity partner, said that Xstrata Copper had advised them that the ECC was scheduled for issuance last December 15.
Indophil noted that formal written approval had not been received at the date of issuing the Australian Stock Exchange announcement.
Constancio Paye Jr., Mines and Geosciences Bureau director for Region 12, said the ECC is needed before Sagittarius Mines is allowed to proceed into commercial operation.
"That (ECC) is a requirement before they can secure the final declaration of mining project feasibility from the government," Paye said in a separate interview on Monday.
Sagittarius Mines has submitted its Tampakan Mine Project Feasibility Study to the Philippine Government in April 2010, for review by the MGB main office.
Paye said he has yet to receive a word from the MGB central office if the review of the MPFS has been completed.
The Tampakan copper-gold project represents the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia.
If developed, the mine could be the largest in the Philippines and among the largest copper mines in the world. Current estimates indicate it could yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per year over a 17-year life of the mine site, a company study showed.
It is, however, hounded by the controversial environment code of South Cotabato that bans the open-pit mining method.
The Tampakan project is also facing social opposition from Church-backed groups as well as security threats from the communist New People's Army. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)
Lawmakers call for mine moratorium anew
By Rubyloida Bitog
Sun Star Baguio
27 December 2011
IFUGAO Representative Teddy Baguilat with Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casiño and other mining advocates are currently preparing reports on mining and its impact to indigenous communities to further strengthen and substantiate the call for moratorium on mining.
The report contains the plight of many indigenous communities affected by large-scale mining operations. It also revealed recommendations on how to balance the economic interest of the country and the respect for the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs).
In the past ten months, the National Cultural Communities (NCC) Committee had been conducting congressional and on-site hearings on the impacts of mining to IPs. The observed trend is that mining causes conflict among the affected communities thus breaking their strong socio-cultural ties.
A case for instance is the conflict in the royalty share of the directly and indirectly affected Mamanwa indigenous communities by the mining operations of Taganito Nickel in Claver, Surigao del Sur. Until now, there have been tribal killings among the warring communities.
Another observed situation in mining is the flawed implementation of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Most cases, regulating agencies either bypassed this requirement or the implementing agency in connivance with companies manipulated the acquisition of the FPIC.
Aside from the conflicts, mining also causes food insecurity to affected communities and has caused the destruction of their pristine forests and agricultural lands.
A case identified by the committee is the long running operations of Lepanto Mining Company in Mankayan, Benguet, which had wrought environmental destruction. One of the schools was literally swallowed by the ground when one mountain caved in. The downstream areas of Mankayan were also affected by the mine tailings.
With all the presented adverse impacts of mining, the committee recommends the following: call for a moratorium on mining and review of existing mining applications; support the initiative of the Congress to amend the Mining Act of 1995; and review and conduct of a thorough investigation on the economic benefits of mining. These recommendations will be submitted to the executive branch for review.
Baguilat said these recommendations, if approved, will be the step in the right direction.
"Mining brought disunity and conflict to many indigenous communities and had caused the destruction of the rich forests traditionally managed by IPs." He added the right to self-determination of IPs is being undermined.
Davao dads move to declare mining-free zone
Business World online
15 December 2011
DAVAO CITY -- Lawmakers have initiated moves to declare Davao City as mining-free zone after passing a resolution on the same day it approved a coal-fired power plant.
The legislative measure passed on Monday sought to ban both open-pit and underground mining which have been described as having "potential negative impact on the environment both during the operations and for years after the [mines are closed]."
The resolution, however, exempts quarrying for limestone, as well as sand and gravel from the ban.
Davao City is hosting Holcim Philippines, listed among the local government's top 10 taxpayers in 2010 that extracts limestone for the production of cement.
Environmental issues include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes, the resolution stated.
"For example, 99 tons of wastes are generated per ton of copper, with even higher ratios in gold mining. These tailings can be toxic," said Councilor Victorio U. Advincula, the proponent of the resolution.
In the same regular session, councilors overturned the veto of Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio on the land reclassification bid of Aboitiz Power Corp. to declare a portion of Binugao, in the city's third district, as a high-density industrial zone, removing the last legal hurdle for the power company to build the estimated P25-billion, 300-megawatt coal plant.
The resolution on the mining ban, coauthored by Councilor Paolo Z. Duterte, brother of the mayor and son of Vice-Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, alluded to the Marcopper mining disaster in 1996 when the pit containing tailings ruptured and released 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic chemicals to Boac River in Marinduque.
Irresponsible mining was also cited as the reason for the death of three men and 21 others missing when the entrance of the tunnel was submerged by a massive landslide in King-king, Pantukan town, Compostela Valley on April 23, 2011.
Wanting in responsibility
"To date, none of the mining companies that operate in the country have owned up responsibility, or effectively rehabilitated the devastated environment," Mr. Advincula said.
Ms. Duterte-Carpio in her state of the city address in September this year already maintained her policy of not allowing mining ventures in the city.
Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus P. Paje has also been asked to reject any open-pit mining application for Davao City.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau here has received applications for mining in the city's Paquibato and Marilog districts. Unlike other cities, Davao City's land area at 2,444 square kilometers is about the size of a province. It has resource rich areas that have remained untapped, the regional office of Mines bureau told local media.
Meanwhile, three Mindanao bishops have expressed disappointment over the apparent failure of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III to respond to a letter-request for a meeting sent last month to discuss mining issues, specifically those related to Sagittarius Mines, Inc.
Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel described Malacañang in a local radio station as "wala batasan," or ill-mannered in the vernacular.
Mr. Gutierrez and Bishops Romulo T. dela Cruz of Kidapawan City and Jimmy Afable of Digos, Davao del Sur said in a press statement yesterday that the letter was received by the Palace on Nov. 9 but a reply has yet to be issued.
"As pastors of the flock, [we] are deeply troubled and concerned on the irreversible damage to the environment particularly to the biodiversity and the last remaining forest, livelihood, food security, health and of the poor communities both of the indigenous people's and the downstream communities," said the bishops in a joint statement issued on Wednesday.
The three dioceses recently forwarded to the Office of the President the signatures of 108,424 individuals from their districts who are opposing the Tampakan gold-copper project.
Mr. Aquino was also criticized by the groups for supporting the project, which they believe is contrary to the president's strategic priorities related to climate change.
These concerns include food security, water sufficiency, ecosystem and environmental stability; human security, sustainable energy, and knowledge and capacity development.
Malacañang officials could not be contacted for comment.
John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, has consistently said that the company "respects the views" of those against the project.
He had assured that the environmental safety measures for the Tampakan project is within the standards acceptable to government regulatory bodies. -- J. B. Escovilla, L. O. Pacardo and R. S. Sarmiento
Davao mayor backs proposed ban on mining
By Judy Quiros
27 December 2011
DAVAO CITY, Philippines-Mayor Sara Duterte has defended a proposal to outlaw mining activities in the city, except for sand and gravel quarrying, saying the ban was not anti-development but a necessity in the protection of the environment.
The proposal, made by Councilors Victorio Advincula Jr. and Paolo Duterte two weeks ago, seeks to prohibit open-pit and underground mining within the Davao City area.
"The nature of mining processes creates a potential negative impact on the environment both during the operations and for years after the mine is closed," the text of the measure reads. It has already passed first reading.
Edilberto Arreza, Mines and Geosciences Bureau regional director for Southern Mindanao, said he was worried about the move to declare the city mining-free.
He said the bureau could not understand such a move and maintained that mining could benefit the city more.
Arreza admitted that at least five mining firms have filed applications for mineral exploration in areas that fall within the city's boundaries. He said the areas applied for total 40,000 hectares.
"The applicants have complied with the requirements but MGB can't give the go-signal to the explorations because of lack of approval from the city government," Arreza said.
But Duterte said she had made her position against mining clear early on.
She said she even called on the MGB to bar mining companies from operating in the Paquibato and Marilog districts here.
Duterte said she agreed with the councilors when they said that mining's benefits would be offset by its ill-effects.
She said mining could result in soil erosion and formation of sinkholes, aside from loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil.
More importantly, the declaration of Davao as mining-free will also protect lives, she said.
"Mining will bring more problems than solutions. We only need to look at the experience of areas where mining exists to realize that," she said.
By John Rizle Saligumba
4 January 2012
DAVAO CITY, Philippines - "Dili ta gusto og dirty energy. Pero ipadayon gihapon nila. (We don't want dirty energy. But they will still pursue the project)," says Jean Lindo, an anesthesiologist by profession and a feisty oppositionist to the Php 25-billion coal-fired power plant. These were the same words she uttered during a dialogue with the plant's proponent, the Aboitiz Power Corporation at the Apo View Hotel. Her group, mostly composed of nuns and students, and local residents, formed the Network Opposed to Coal-fired Power Plant or No to Coal.
Ordinary folks know coal as the proverbial alternative fuel in the dirty kitchen, but with debate raging the whole of the year 2011, coal has seeped into the public consciousness and carried a different meaning.
For a city boasting of abundant water and cheap electricity compared to other cities in the country, Davao City is now facing an impending energy crisis, if the Aboitizes and the project's endorser, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, are to be believed.
The war over coal-fired power plant was waged at both legislative and executive chambers of the local city government. In an effort to win-over the city's lawmakers, whose precious votes were needed to jump-start the project, the power firm funded an ocular survey at its coal-fired power plant in Misamis Oriental. The move was roundly protested, and the hype was such that even one councilor, Councilor Emmanuel Galicia, tipped off a PhP 5,000 pabaon from the firm. The city council later approved of the project in June 27, with a lone opposition coming from neophyte councilor Leah Librado-Yap. In November 15, the city council again approved an ordinance that changed the classification of the plant's location in Barangay Binugao, Toril from one that is protected medium industrial to now a protected heavy industrial land. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, citing the state's constitutional duty, vetoed the decision, a move overturned by her father, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who led the City Council in superseding the veto.
Clad with masks labeled with "Coal Kills," various groups opposing the project lambasted the city council as favoring only to the corporate interest of the Aboitizes. Earlier, Doctor Lindo said community leaders in the fishing communities of Sirawan and Inawayan considered Mayor Sara Duterte's veto a strong message to the Aboitizes. "Really, Aboitiz should realize that coal plants are as backward and aged as the cave men," Lindo said.
Mayor Duterte, in her veto message, pointed to the dangerous effect of the coal plant's carbon dioxide emissions reaching to almost 3 millions of tons per year and mercury. We cannot overemphasize the economic downside of having a sickly population due to a heavily deteriorating environment and massive population. Mayor Duterte said.
The dire impact of the coal-fired power plant is yet to come, but the effect of soil quarrying was seen in the flash flood in Barangay Matina Pangi last June that killed 29 people. Mines and Geosciences officials point to the unhampered quarrying that caused the heavy siltation of loose soil and constriction of river channels, that could not contain the onslaught of water.
Elsewhere in Mindanao, unregulated large-scale mining, just like quarrying, aggravated the impact of heavy rains that caused killer flash floods.
Typhoon Sendong claimed the lives of more than 1,000 individuals across 183 barangays in Region X including at least 280 people reported dead in Iligan City. Latest Department of Social Welfare and Development data tells that about 65,998 families have been affected by the flash floods, which carried logs from the mountains and swept away houses and other structures.
Residents of Cagayan de Oro City described their encounter with typhoon Sendong and the ensuing flash floods, barely 10 days before Christmas of 2011. "Naay babae ug iyang anak naka survive kay nakasakay sila sa purtahan sa refrigerator, naabot sila'g Camiguin," (There was a woman and her child who survived because they held on a refrigerator door; they were swept to Camiguin island)," recounted a Davao-based volunteer of the nongovernmental BALSA Mindanao, which conducted a relief mission before the year ended.
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, in a statement posted in the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines website, said "The continued hydraulic flush mining along Iponan River has likewise caused widespread flooding of the Canitoan-Iponan areas of the city,"
While the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines have lately issued a statement saying that large-scale mining was not responsible for the Sendong tragedy and that groups who want to ban all forms of mining is using the calamity to advance their agenda, mining in Cagayan de Oro was already a hot issue way back in 2009 because of a similar flash flood that affected 30,000 people in 36 villages. Mining operations were suspended, especially concessions in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Lanao del Norte), which hit Cagayan de Oro and nearby provinces.
In the nearby province of South Cotabato where the mining company XSTRATA-SMI is operating, residents are also worried. "Moabot ang panahon nga dunay bagyo ug mahitabo ang susamang panghitabo. Nanawagan mi nga ihunong ang pag-opereyt sa Xstrata-SMI. (Typhoon will surely come and the same incident might happen. We call the Xstrata-SMI to stop its operations.)," said Pastor Vincent Ortiz of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a convener of the Church People's Advocacy for the Integrity of God's Creation.
Church groups, farmers organizations, indigenous peoples organizations, human rights groups and militant groups have long opposed the $5.9 billion Tampakan Copper-Gold Project, claiming it poses a big threat to the environment and would drive out thousands of lumads (indigenous peoples) from their ancestral lands. The Swiss-based Xstrata is eyeing the region's 1.1 million metric tons of gold and copper.
Before the year ended, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Socsksargen, human rights group Karapatan and Socsksargen Agenda led a five-day march, dubbed "Lakbayan II: The fight continues against large-scale mining and human rights violation" last December 6. It culminated with protesters painting "CLOSED" on the Xstrata-SMI office. Protesters also demanded the passage of the People's Mining Bill. In the countryside, indigenous peoples have pledged to wage a pangayaw (tribal war) against the Xstrata-SMI. The South Cotabato province has also imposed a ban on open-pit mining.
Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo has questioned the ban claiming that it does not follow the provisions of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act. Robredo's move echoes the thrust of his boss, President Benigno Aquino III, who eyes more mining investments in the country through his centerpiece program, the Public-Private Partnership Program (PPP). A Business Expectations Survey from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas noted that "mining and quarrying continued to record the highest expansion plans," since the first quarter of 2011. According to the research databank Ibon Foundation, "the mining subsector is set to be one of the fastest growing in 2011 with 7.1 percent growth rate in the first three quarters that outpaced manufacturing, construction, utilities, agriculture and all the services subsectors except for finance."
"Considering the number of large-scale mining permits approved so far by the government, (President Aquino) is practically mandating the mass destruction of forests and key biodiversity areas," said Frances Quimpo of the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines.
As the destructive effects of mining in Mindanao rose to a fevered pitch, the New People's Army did what the Aquino government failed to do: punish the abusive "destructive, large-scale mining of multinational mining companies." In October 3, about 250 communist guerillas burned the equipment of the Taganito Mining, Taganito High-Pressure Acid Leaching Nickel and Platinum Groups Metals in Surigao del Norte. They also disarmed and confiscated the firearms of the security officers. The daring NPA raid in Surigao cost these big mining companies an estimated PhP 500 million. (John Rizle Saligumba/davaotoday.com)
Firm wins injunction vs mining ban
5 January 2012
TVI RESOURCE Development Philippines, Inc. (TVIRD) has won an injunction against a Zamboanga del Norte ordinance banning open-pit mining in the province, a development the firm welcomed as a "first step" in a legal battle against the local government.
TVIRD, a unit of Canada's TVI Pacific, Inc., said in a statement that its November 2011 petition for relief had been approved by the Dipolog City Regional Trial Court, which said the firm held a valid contract for its Canatuan copper and zinc mine and would suffer "grave and irreparable damage and injury" if forced to halt operations.
"[T]he prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction is hereby granted," read a copy of the court order that was released by TVIRD to the media.
The resolution, issued on Wednesday, noted that the firm had the right to seek an injunction as it was party to a mining agreement with the national government under a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement.
The court also said that should the ban be implemented, TVIRD would have to deal with the consequences of having to prematurely pay off millions of dollars worth of outstanding loans: $6.35 million from the Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company and another $9.68 million from the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
"[T]he court is of the opinion and so holds that there is now a pressing necessity to grant the preliminary injunction as a preservative remedy to avoid injurious consequences that cannot be remedied under any standard compensation," the resolution states.
TVIRD, meanwhile, was also ordered to post a bond amounting to P2 million "to answer for any damages which the respondents (Zamboanga Governor Rolando E. Yebes, et al.) may sustain" should the court ultimately decide to lift the injunction.
BusinessWorld contacted Mr. Yebes' office yesterday and was told he was traveling to Manila. Jess Sarmiento, the provincial legal officer who was said to be authorized to speak on the matter, was also out of his office and was not immediately available for comment.
TVIRD President Eugene T. Mateo, in a statement, said: "[t]he injunction is the first step towards complete victory."
"TVIRD is now preparing for a legal battle to prove that this ordinance is invalid and unconstitutional. We believe we are on the side of the law and we expect to win this," he added.
Mr. Mateo said TVIRD considered the court ruling a "major victory" as the company would be able to keep operating in the area.
The firm, in its petition last November, described the Zamboanga del Norte ordinance -- enacted on Aug. 15, 2011 and which took effect on Nov. 6, 2011 -- as "unconstitutional and invalid" as it was contrary to provisions in the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Sought for comment, Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Leo L. Jasareno said the court resolution was "welcome news" for the mining industry.
"[I]t proves our position that local legislations cannot rise above national policies," Mr. Jasareno said in a phone interview yesterday. -- from a report by KAM
Palawan tribes go cyber to keep out nickel miner
By Melody Kemp
10 December 2011
PALAWAN - When big global mining companies set their sights on the Philippine island of Palawan, one of the world's remaining ecological hotspots and home to many traditional tribes, little did they suspect their China-backed, billion-dollar extraction plans would be met by social media-fueled resistance.
Indigenous people in Palawan have organized globally to raise awareness about their plight and to save their ancestral lands from planned large-scale mining. One activist group, the Ancestral Land and Domain Watch (ALDAW), has made use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to transform what was originally a local movement into a vibrant global environmental campaign.
"We have to struggle to maintain interest and momentum," said Artiso Mandawa, a Palawan activist who is rarely seen without his laptop.
The story is a familiar one in Asia: a rich and politically connected mining company wins a government concession granted without local level consultations to exploit precious minerals in an ecologically sensitive area. In this case, MacroAsia, a Philippine miner listed on the local stock exchange, won the right to dig nickel from areas of Palawan, some of which have been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a "Man and the Biosphere" reserve.
MacroAsia, majority owned by Filipino tycoon Lucio Tan, started exploration in the area in 2010 and plans to begin operations in April 2012, according to recent company statements. The company holds a mineral production sharing agreement over a 1,114-hectare area and has estimated the mine holds nearly 88 million tonnes of nickel ore. Nickel is used in the production of stainless steel.
China's Jinchuan Group recently agreed to provide funding for a US$1 billion nickel processing plant in Palawan. The Philippines is China's second leading supplier of nickel and much of the ore mined in Palawan will be exported to China. President Benigno Aquino agreed to $14 billion worth of mining-related investments with China, including an expansion of MacroAsia's Palawan plans, during his state trip to Beijing in August.
Normally these powerful political and economic forces win out over local sentiments and grievances in the Philippines. But Palawan's mix of ecological wonder, historical significance and cultural uniqueness has drawn a local and global response to the planned mining activities, one that Aquino's supposedly reformist administration is finding difficult to ignore. On November 10, a group of indigenous people and farmers protested against Jinchuan's mining plans in the Palawan city of Brooke's Point, a rare public display of overt anti-China sentiment in the Philippines.
What's yours is mine
High in Palawan's mountains, indigenous Pala'wan and Taqbanua people live in rudimentary leaf shelters and use sleds in preference to wheeled vehicles. Some live in locations so remote that the national census fails to count their numbers. Yet their desire to stay in their deep forest and their right to do so is being beamed out from laptops tapped on by tech-savvy indigenous leaders.
Archaeologists discovered that tigers thrived on Palawan around 12,000 years ago, having entered from Borneo via the Balabac strait. The tigers are now extinct but local people have reported that various other wild cats survive in the remote area. Recent discoveries of until now unknown species in Borneo give hope that Palawan's unexplored hinterlands may also yield undiscovered species.
Meanwhile, the cloud-soaked mountains of Palawan are home to some of the biggest stands of carbon sequestering natural forest left in Asia. These forests are rich in endemic biota, many endangered species and well represented on the Red List of endangered species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Palawan is also known as the cradle of Philippine civilization, an area where relics of the earliest Philippine settlers have been uncovered. Local people here have traditionally traded high value resins and other non-timber forest products as well as agricultural produce from swidden and sustainable forest farming.
In contrast to this timelessness, ALDAW's Facebook page is the epitome of modernity with a 10-million signature campaign, photographs of the former Filipino ambassador to Italy Romeo Manalo signing on to protect the wilderness, and various embedded videos of their activist activities. So far, its online petition has secured 6,000 signatures. The Philippines is among the top 10 users of Facebook in the world, sending the group's message far and wide. In true Filipino style, the campaign to save Palawan against mining even has an official song.
But can enough "likes" on a Facebook page save a forest? In March 2006, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo moved to revive the moribund mining industry, making it a central plank to her government's national economic strategy. This included the contract tendered to Macro Asia to mine nickel in Palawan. The results of the policy, however, have been devastating for many local communities.
Across the country, open-pit and strip mining has flattened mountain tops, polluted water courses, and felled huge stands of primary and secondary forest. On the resource-rich southern island of Mindanao, a series of high-profile executions of anti-mining advocates has led to rising tension and community fear.
Concessions have been given to many foreign investors, including small-scale Chinese miners; who activists say have shown scant concern for the natural environment in their operations. As global commodity prices rise, foreign interest in the Philippines unexploited mineral riches is rising, particularly in nearby China.
On Palawan, indigenous Tagbanua, Batak and Pala'wan people are now fighting back armed with laptops and Web 2.0 applications. In collaboration with Dario Novellino of the University of Kent's Center for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD), they have produced videos to provide communities across the Philippines with more information on the ecological and social consequences of large scale mining.
"The companies had been approaching individual villages and people making wild and attractive promises," Mandawa said. "We wanted to give them information from the other side, so they make decisions based on knowledge not on pressure or dreams."
Other technological tools have been used to challenge MacroAsia's claims to environmental consciousness during its exploration phase. For instance, hi-tech geo-tagging has appeared to show that mining area claims have pushed deep into ancestral domain lands and legally protected eco-zones.
Maps of the intrusions have been loaded onto a Facebook page and linked to Google maps alongside an online petition calling for a halt to mining activities in the area. (This correspondent flew over the area where gaping holes in the ancient forests were already widely evident.)
Before the arrival of Spanish colonialists, Palawan's peoples - the Batak, Tagbanua and Pala'wan, among others - had a complex civilization complete with participatory forms of government, an alphabet and codified trading with seagoing merchants. Families here trace their immediate families back seven or eight generations.
Even now, most continue a traditional life, eschewing cities and modernity. The Pala'wan clans maintain a system based on specialized castes, blacksmithing, botany and plant-based medicines, marine and coastal management, and (cyber) warriors to protect their interests. MacroAsia has been aggressive in its attempts to win local acceptance for their mining plan, including outlays for so-called "social and management development programs."
"The mining company took our elders to the stinking cities," Mandawa said, "and enticed them with electronic gadgets, mobile phones, TV's. By the time they came back to the village they were infected with a belief that we will all have such things if the mines go ahead. Those who oppose mining never get inside the door. If we ask questions, we are escorted out."
Now he and others have turned the tables, using those same electronic gadgets brought back from the cities to fight back against the miners.
"We made videos in communities that had experienced mining so that the information could be shared," said Mandawa. "Those people told of broken promises, of being poorly paid wage slaves in their own land, of hunger and rivers where the fish had died. Seeing that and hearing words from the old people gave the communities more resistance to the sweet words."
Their campaign, however, has been met with violence.
Gerardo Ortega, an environmental advocate, radio journalist and program manager of Philippine Ecotourism Palawan, was shot and killed with a bullet to the head earlier this year. In Ortega's news reporting, he had criticized mining companies, including their alleged practice of using of fake tribal leaders to speak in support of mining in public hearings held notably in Manila, not Palawan.
"His death gave us energy to fight harder," said Artiso, a poster on ALDAW's Facebook page. His murder was covered in the national and international press, and has rallied the segments of the global Filipino diaspora, many of whom had hoped for a change, not murder as usual, with Aquino's election in mid-2010.
MacroAsia had earlier claimed that 50 tribal chieftains and around 80% of the indigenous people in the Brooke's Point area around the mine have welcomed the project - an assertion ALDAW has strongly refuted. In an August 29 press release, ALDAW argued that the position of "tribal chieftain" does not adhere to any customary definitions or community leaders in Palawan and that the position was invented to fit the interests of large corporations and government agencies.
MacroAsia has leveraged the claim of local support to receive a "certificate of precondition" from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, which the company needs to commence full mining operations in the area. It is still awaiting a final permit to begin large-scaling mining in the area.
Despite its global component, the campaign so far has met with only limited success. Aquino's government recently announced a moratorium on certain small-scale mining activities. MacroAsia's type of large-scale mining planned for Palawan has not been affected by the official order.
"The moratorium is not a great success. It only prevents small-scale mining. It's the large-scale mines which could bring Palawan's biocultural diversity to an ultimate end," said Kent University's Novellino. "Yes, the pressure mobilized through the use of the web and e-mails was really conspicuous, and from different institutions."
"But no international campaign can succeed unless it is backed by locally grounded efforts. Before ALDAW was created, Palawan NGOs had no unitary and campaign strategy," said Novellino. "It was only through ALDAW that active collaboration and communication was established between the villagers, national advocacy bodies such as Alyansa tigil Mina (Alliance Against Mining) and international support."
The campaign has also recruited other groups, such as Survival International and Rainforest Rescue, into the Palawan movement, which is now beginning to focus on the additional environmental threat of large-scale palm oil plantations, a nascent industry here that has devastated large swathes of forestlands in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
The IUCN's Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy and others have provided space for placing video clips into their own websites, to provide additional and different coverage of the Palawan situation. At the same time, activists and analysts say its important to maintain momentum to sustain the campaign and push back against MacroAsia's plans for the area.
"Pressure can only be kept alive with novelty and news to elaborate the cause for which the people are fighting. In that sense, it is essential to have new documentation available: new videos, new geo-tagging evidence, new updates to keep the news and the campaign always on the move," said Novellino.
"This is why ALDAW has put so much energy into participatory videos and field documentation. If you recycle the same news and stories, the vigor of the campaign is diluted."
One new angle has been to put pressure on the United Nations. UNESCO's Office in Jakarta said that its "Man and the Biosphere" ranking for biodiversity hot spots deferred to national sovereignty in relation to land-use issues. After a social media-fuelled call to act, UNESCO has since promised to investigate the claims made by ALDAW and others.
Melody Kemp is an environmental journalist currently living in Indonesia.