MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Unnatural disasters

Published by MAC on 2013-11-18
Source: Statements, Reuters, Business World, Inquirer

Once again the Philippines has become the focus of news services as they record the appalling human costs of another 'natural' disaster (in this case typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda). These often make reference to the damage done to mining (or in the case below) refining facilities. We would, however, echo previous assertions that the typhoons are not entirely "natural", nor are the consequences caused by the destruction or weakening of many of the country's natural defences, consequent to mining and mineral exploitation. For a review of the issue of climate change, the extractive industries and indigenous peoples, see chapter 1.3 in the publication Pitfalls and Pipelines (download a pdf of the document of the report here)

In other news, as Glencore deals with the damage to its PASAR refinery it is still reviewing the much criticised proposed Tampakan project. One of the affected tribal leaders, Erita Capion, has renewed calls to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples for justice for her murdered kin.

Finally, in Agusan del Sur, mining is being blamed for the drying up of local wells.

Glencore Xstrata's Philippine smelter damaged by typhoon


11 November 2013

LONDON - Glencore Xstrata's PASAR copper smelter and refinery in the Philippines has sustained "heavy structural damage" after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, typhoon Haiyan, battered the country and left an estimated 10,000 people dead.

PASAR said in a statement it was currently inspecting its facilities and assessing the impact.

"Initial assessments confirm that PASAR has sustained heavy structural damage to its operations," it said, estimating a return to normal operations could take at least 4 to 6 weeks.

The PASAR plant, majority owned by Glencore, is in Leyte province, southeast of Manila. It was closed after a fire last year, which stopped production for about six months, and then restarted in July 2012.

China's $100,000 aid ‘measly,' judged by its Phl mining take

Jarius Bondoc

The Philippine Star

20 November 2013

Talk about fair-weather friend. "As hundreds of thousands of Filipinos struggled to find food, water, shelter and the bodies of loved ones in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, China quickly dipped into its world-leading $3.7 trillion of currency reserves and came up with ... all of $100,000." That Bloomberg news lead captured the general recoil at how the world's second-largest economy treats an Asian neighbor. Other headlines stated "cheapskate," "paltry," "miserly" and, in one mainland-Chinese daily, "ungenerous."

Beijing could not have missed the effects of history's strongest ever typhoon to make landfall. Global networks had tracked Haiyan's ruin of the Philippines, where three-fourths of families have Chinese blood. Undeterred by Philippine mountain ranges, the storm crossed over the sea to hit China. One drowned and seven went missing in Hainan, and many areas were flooded in Guangxi provinces. Beijing came upon a chance to show amity and soft power. Yet it chose to be petty, due to sea disputes with Manila. With trade overshooting $36 billion in 2012, China often calls the Philippines "partner."

In the first hours of Filipinos' distress, the world sprang to the rescue. The US rushed in an aircraft carrier group laden with emergency crews and $20-million relief. Britain, Japan, and Korea sent trucks, food, and cash of, in turn, $16 million, $10 million, and $5 million. Donations poured in from Australia, $28 million; European Union, $17 million; Vatican, $4 million; Indonesia, $2 million; and Taiwan, which China labels its province, $200,000.

Private outfits across the globe gave too, among the first Coca Cola, $2.5 million; NBA, $500,000; Journey rock band, $350,000; and L.A. Lakers, $150,000. Media outlets compared the amounts to China's. Stung by criticisms Beijing later announced to follow up with $1.4 million in tents and blankets. By then the initial donors had doubled or tripled their pledges, with still more states, heeding the UN plea for $301 million for preliminary rehab. News persisted that China's additional aid was but half the $2.7 million from the Swedish furniture maker Ikea.

Manila graciously thanked Beijing's aid. The nine million stricken folk need all the help they can get. Chinese think tanks rued the ruin to China's reputation as Asia's fastest rising power.


Haiyan's destruction is both natural and man-made. Its 320-kph winds toppled substandard structures, and 15-foot waves lashed coastal towns denuded of mangrove forest cover. Although most vulnerable to climate change-induced weather disturbances, the Philippines goes on despoiling its natural wealth. China plays a big role in the Philippines' environmental ravage.

In Leyte province, worst hit by Haiyan, China's Nicua Mining Corp. for years has been sucking up black sand from the beaches, for magnetite. Overturned in the process are corals, around which fish and mollusks feed and spawn. Displaced fishermen have taken to dynamiting, and making charcoal out of felled mangroves, compounding the environmental ruin.

Foreigners are forbidden from mining in the Philippines, except for special financial-technical assistance. But Nicua was able to skirt the ban by buying out a local concessionaire in Macarthur town. Too, Filipinos and foreigners alike are barred from seaside black sand mining. But the giant Chinese miner was allowed because its site supposedly is a farm far inland. From there it financed poor coastal dwellers in other towns to gather black sand, small-scale. It then took over them, hauling sand onto barges, large-scale. Chinese miners do not play by the rules, employing bribery to extract and export Philippine minerals illegally.

Magnetite from black sand sustains China's steel, telecoms, and medical and audio equipment industries. Because angry locals disrupt Nicua's harmful operations, more Chinese miners poach black sand elsewhere. In Cagayan, Ilocos, Pangasinan, and Zambales in Luzon, they routinely pay off local officials to look the other way as they ship away the mineral. Lawmen last Aug. raided such a Chinese operation, of Huaxia Trading & Mining Corp. in Cagayan. Beijing's embassy bailed out the 18 Chinese poachers, whereupon they sailed for home. China's Lian Xing Stone Carving Co. remains, illicitly burrowing sand in Luzon.

In Homonhon Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, first to be hit by Haiyan, Peng Cheng Metallic Resources Inc. mines nickel and chromite. If magnetite operations ruin seashores, nickel-chromite mines denude forests and muddy the rivers. Mountains are leveled to extract the ore, for loading in bulk cargo vessels to China.

Filipinos may mine under production-sharing agreements with the government. Peng Cheng elbowed its way into Homonhon five years ago by buying into the local miner. In payolas, mining regulators and town officials ignore islanders' pleas that the zone long had been awarded to them for pasturing. Also into ferronickel in Eastern Samar is China's Rock Check Steel Co. Ltd.

Nickel and chromite too feed China's steel mills. In Zambales, three Chinese miners have permits from national authorities for nickel in Botolan town down south. But Wei Wei Group, Jiangxi Rare Earth Metals and Tungsten Group, and Nihao Mineral Resources are insatiable. Via five subsidiaries, they use 93 "small-scale" Filipino miners as fronts to extract ore up north in Sta. Cruz and Masinloc, and in adjacent Infanta, Pangasinan. The governor of Zambales had signed the "small-scale" mining permits all in one day in 2011.

Chinese zinc, gold, silver, copper, iron, cobalt, manganese, chromite, and nickel mines abound in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The five in northern Zambales are most injurious. Hillsides have been laid barren, rivers and coastal waters muddied. Dust from extractions and emissions from thousands of dump trucks blacken the air. Sta. Cruz and Masinloc townsfolk suffer higher than national average incidences of intestinal and lung ailments. One of the five fronts, LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., runs a port in Sta. Cruz from which four shiploads of ore depart weekly.

Beijing's sea rows with Manila and Hanoi are all about mineral and marine wealth. Ironically, Manila abets China's virtual invasion of mines within Philippine land territory: Leyte, Samar, Luzon. Flourishing from Philippine metal extractions, China's steel and related industries build warships, weapons, and surveillance systems to grab Philippine shoals. Chinese vessels have fenced off Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) off Zambales, where Hainanese launches catch more than the $100,000-Chinese aid, daily in food fish and corals. Jiangxi Group also mines nickel and cobalt in Palawan, hard hit too by Haiyan, and where China is itching to grab yet more banks.

On record China derives from the Philippine $4 billion of minerals per year. Nickel ore alone is 13 million metric tons a year. The figure could double if the illegal Chinese mines are counted. They deprive the Philippines of taxes and royalties. And that's no way to treat a friend.

Philippines' Isolated Indigenous Peoples Shut Off From Haiyan Relief

Tebtebba press release

15 November 2013

Far from cities and supplies, remote communities struggle to survive after losing lives, homes and boats to typhoon

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed an untold number of people, displaced 630,000 and devastated central Philippines, the country's indigenous peoples-most of whom are located in isolated, forested communities, far away from cities and supplies-are emerging as among the worst hit.

As they struggle to survive and assess damage to the natural resources they preserve and maintain for their incomes and food, an estimated 1,600 indigenous families are struggling to secure basic supplies that could help them to survive-and rebuild their lives.

The indigenous Tagbanua communities, spread out across the Calamianes, a group of islands in the southwest province of Palawan, were severely impacted when the typhoon made its sixth landfall.

On Coron island, a popular tourist destination famous for its serene lakes and white sand beaches, fifty people died and nearly all of the community's houses were destroyed. The community-home to 700 families-has lost most of its boats, eliminating its primary mode of transport and income.

Coron mayor Clara Reyes told a local television station that 90 percent of the island's houses and hotels are either totally or partly damaged and only ten of the 1,000 registered pump boats used for tourism remain, threatening the islanders' tourism-related income. She said that it could take six months to a year for the island to recover.

On Tara island, a storm surge triggered by the typhoon caused numerous casualties and destroyed homes and infrastructure. Some 900 families were impacted.

Indigenous communities on these islands and across the Calamianes remain isolated from relief efforts. Facing starvation, they have one basic but crucial need-rubber boats, their lifeline to supplies, including rice, gasoline and energy, said Ruel Belen, the Palawan coordinator of Philippine Association for Intercultural Development (Pafid), an organization that assesses and addresses the problems faced by indigenous communities.

"All of their boats were washed out, so we need rubber boats to transport much-needed food and other relief goods to these communities," said Belen.

Because the national government and international organizations are focusing their relief efforts on densely-populated Tacloban, the capital of the Leyte province, which received the brunt of the typhoon's damage, indigenous peoples have received little support. Belen is currently working with a network of indigenous peoples' organizations and support groups to send them relief and raise money for their recovery.

"As of now, the few food relief packs that have been distributed are mainly concentrated in the evacuation centers of populous cities like Tacloban and do not reach the interior indigenous communities at all," said Luz Brozula, a program coordinator with the Integrated Development Program for Indigenous People in Southern Tagalog (IDPIP-ST), an organization that supports indigenous peoples in the region.

The Philippines, an archipelago nation of more than 7,000 islands, is pummelled yearly by tropical storms and typhoons (called hurricanes and cyclones in other parts of the world). The impoverished and densely populated nation of 96 million people is in the northwestern Pacific, sits in the path of the world's most fearsome typhoon corridor, according to meteorologists. The eastern seaboard is the most vulnerable.

Haiyan was an especially dire catastrophe, even for a country accustomed to storms. Its winds were among the strongest ever recorded, and, though estimates are changing as the damage is assessed, it is potentially deadlier than Thelma, which killed about 5,100 people when it hit central Philippines in 1991.

Some groups in the Phillippines are prepared for changes to the climate. The indigenous Ivatan of the Batanes Group of Islands in northern Philippines, for example, have learned to adapt to the harsh weather conditions that strike every year between June and December. They have, for example, built stone houses that could withstand the worst typhoon ever.

The typhoon figured prominently in the on-going climate change talks in Warsaw, especially after the tearful Philippine envoy announced that he would fast "until a meaningful outcome is in sight."

"We can fix this," Naderev Sano said at a press conference in the Polish capital. "We can stop this madness. Right now, right here."

Tebtebba executive director Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is currently in Warsaw, Poland for the climate change talks, urged governments, particularly those in the developed world, to make drastic cuts in their greenhouse emissions and support the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF is a fund within the framework of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change founded as "a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world to help developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change."

"What we are experiencing now in the Phillippines demands greater ambition by industrialized countries to cut their carbon emissions," said Tauli-Corpuz. "Time is running out, and we, indigenous peoples, will again be severely affected. We also urge governments to commit finding to the GCF and support our call for the climate funds to give direct assistance to our devastated communities."

Tampakan Massacre Victim Kin Seeks UN Intervention

Social Action Center of Marbel (SAC-Marbel) & Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks) Press Statement

4 November 2013

A relative of massacre victim, Juvy Capion and her two children, has asked for the intervention of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Prof. James Anaya. Erita Capion Dialang seeks an investigation and resolution to the numerous violations of their rights as B'laan Indigenous Peoples, [1] which include the killing of members of their clans in struggles over a proposed mining project by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) [2]

Juvy Capion and her two children were killed just over a year ago in October 2012, by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippine assigned in the area. The military claimed, however, that the victims were killed in crossfire as they tried to arrest Juvy's husband Daguil Capion. Daguil has become a leader of the armed resistance of the B'laan people to SMI's Tampakan Copper Gold Project in South Cotabato, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

In a letter addressed to Professor Anaya, Erita Capion Dialang, sister of Daguil Capion, and respected Fandita (female B'laan leader), asked the UN envoy to act on a video communication sent to him highlighting the issues that hound the B'laan indigenous communities. [3] These include forcible entry to their territories without community consent, usurpation of their legal right to free, prior and informed consent, and the audacity of SMI to desecrate sacred places, and disrespect prayer houses and burial grounds.

The letter reiterates the various human rights violations committed by elements of the Philippine military's Task Force KITACO that have been sowing terror in a once-peaceful community. It enumerated recent victims of military atrocities, including the killing of Kitari Capion and B'laan respected elder, (Bong Fulong) Anteng Freay and his son, Victor. Task Force KITACO has received financial support from SMI and the local government units of Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, Tampakan, South Cotabato, and Columbio, Sultan Kudarat. The letter also assails the government's National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for their ignorance of the B'laan's customary laws.

Erita Capion Dialang has asked Professor Anaya to call on the Philippine Government to investigate and resolve the issues of the killings of B'laan by the military, with the help of paramilitaries, and to investigate the violations committed by SMI and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) against their customary laws and against their human rights. She also extended an invitation for Professor Anaya to visit the B'laan communities and see for himself their situation.

For further information, contact:-

Rene Pamplona (Philippines) Email: sacmarbel[at]

Andy Whitmore (UK) Email: comms[at]


Notes for editors

1) A copy of the letter from

2) Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is developing the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The major shareholder, and controlling partner, is Xstrata Copper (now part of the Swiss-based multinational Glencore Xstrata). The project is a hugely contentious one, facing opposition from local B'laan tribespeople, but also large sections of local civil society. The Province of South Cotabato has passed an ordinance banning openpit mining, primarily in response to the proposed project. For more information see:

3) A copy of the video can be sent on request.

Gov't moves to resolve Tampakan issue

Business World

4 November 2013

THE AQUINO administration has moved to act on obstacles that have delayed the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project, touted as potentially the Philippines' biggest foreign investment to date.

Recommendations to address several concerns raised by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), the firm behind the $5.9-billion venture, should be submitted by the end of this month, according to a National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) memorandum dated Sept. 5.

The note, sent to Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo and Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus P. Paje, detailed the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council's (MICC) response to an Aug. 23 letter from SMI.

It said the MICC -- formed by Malacañang last year to flesh out mining policy changes -- subsequently ordered the creation of an Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) that was directed to provide recommendations with regard to the following:

• conflicts between certificate of land ownership awards and Tampakan mining tenements;

• potential liabilities for environmental damages arising from project operations;

• the open-pit mining ban in South Cotabato; and

• the processing of free and prior informed consent of affected indigenous communities.

The IAWG's proposals are expected to be submitted "not later than 30 November 2013," the memorandum states.

The NEDA said creation of the working group was requested by SMI in its letter, where the firm also raised concerns over its "commitment to resolve the emerging challenges and advance the Tampakan project, in close collaboration with relevant government agencies and stakeholders by signing the project's environment compliance certificate (ECC)...."

The IAWG, led jointly by Trade and Environment departments, includes representatives from the Local Government, Agrarian Reform and National Defense departments as well as of the Office of Solicitor General, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.

Australia-based Indopil Resources NL, which together with Switzerland-based Glencore Xtrata holds a combined 40% stake in SMI, noted in third quarter report to the Australia Securities Exchange that "[a]t the August meeting of the MICC, SMI's request was discussed and favorably considered."

Indophil also claimed that "[t]he mandate of the working group is to prioritize resolution of major issues by Nov. 30..."

Meanwhile, in a Sept. 26 letter to the MICC cochairmen, Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima and Mr. Paje, SMI Executive Vice-President Justin Hillier said his firm was "hopeful that these outstanding issues and challenges faced by the Tampakan project shall be addressed with an appropriate level of urgency."

At the same time, however, Mr. Hillier noted that the IAWG's scope "does not include providing clarity" on other issues SMI raised in its Aug. 23 letter, particularly:

• local government endorsement;

• permits for tree-cutting, water supply, discharge, building and explosives;

• access through forests and options for compulsory land acquisition;

• tenement consolidation;

• secure operating environment; and

• the industry's fiscal regime.

SMI also asked that Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras "be appointed in the lead role of the IAWG to ensure the necessary level of cross-departmental authority".

Leo L. Jasareno, Mines and Geosciences Bureau director and a member of the MICC, yesterday said the working group would be meeting tomorrow.

"On Nov. 6, the concerned agencies will present their action plans, timelines and recommendations on the resolution of the issues of the Tampakan project," he said, adding that they also supported Mr. Almendras' appointment as IAWG chief.

NEDA Deputy Director-General Emmanuel F. Esguerra, who as head of the MICC Secretariat issued the Sept. 5 memo, said he could not give a timetable for the resolution of the Tampakan issue.

"[The] MICC will decide on the basis of reports to be submitted ... we want it resolved as soon as possible," Mr. Esguerra said.

SMI announced in August that it would be downscaling operations and laying off workers given continued project uncertainty, mainly due to the imposition of the open-pit mining ban in 2010.

Last year, SMI said it would defer the start of Tampakan's commercial operations to 2019 from 2016, with construction to "potentially commence in 2015", as a result of the ban.

Philippines: Is Indophil bracing for SMI takeover?

By Edwin Espejo

Asian Correspondent

7 November 2013

Indophil Resources NL of Australia is reportedly in discussion with partner Glencore-Xstrata Ltd for possible acquisition of the latter's controlling 62.5 percent stake at the beleaguered Sagittarius Mines Inc, holder of the controversial Tampakan Copper and Gold Project in the southern Philippines.

Reports said Indophil and Glencore are "in a range of discussions."

Richard Laufmann, Indophil chief executive officer, earlier reported that there is a possibility "Glencore-Xstrata may be forced to divest its stake in Tampakan as a result of the commitments made to the Chinese government" to secure the approval of its merger with Xstrata early this year.

Indophil Resources NL corporate affairs manager Gavan Collery declined to comment on possible sale of Glencore stake in SMI.

He, however, said in an e-mailed statement, "(R)ead the body language."

Collery is in China attending in a mining conference.

Glencore International earlier agreed to sell Xstrata's Las Bambas project in Peru as precondition to the approval of the merger of the two global companies amid fears of the Chinese mining regulators the merge companies will dominate global copper trade.

China is among the world's biggest and leading copper market.

Xstrata Ltd, before the merger, was the world's fourth largest copper producer while Glencore was among the world's leading commodities traders with extensive mining interests. Their merger has resulted in the formation of the world's fourth largest diversified mining company.

The sale of the Las Bambas project however has yet to be completed with only two Chinese mining companies submitting bids.

Without the sale of Las Bambas the Tampakan project could be up for sale to satisfy Chinese conditions.

Glencore has earlier stated its preference to support mining projects already in the commercial production.

Glencore has said SMI is among its ‘greenfield' projects - meaning it has not gone beyond exploration and is not yet in commercial production.

SMI is yet to secure all the necessary government approvals for it to begin constructing facilities and mobilizing equipment to begin commercial production.

It earlier announced it will begin commercial production in 2019 but has since downscaled its operations following uncertainty in getting the necessary permits to operate the mine.

Although it was already issued the environmental certificate of compliance, SMI is yet to secure the approval of the host South Cotabato provincial government which, in 2010, passed an ordinance banning open pit mining in the province.

SMI was also told to secure prior and informed consent of host tribal communities.

Collery declined to provide details of the range of talks between the two SMI partners.

But the Glencore announcement to downscale its SMI operations led to its minority partner Indophil, which holds 37.5 percent of the Tampakan-based mining company, to impair the value of its stake in Tampakan by $107.5 million. This after the Australia-based exploration company raised its capital exposure to SMI only last year.

The move resulted in the entry of PLDT's Manuel Pangilinan, Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation and Henry Sy of SM Holdings through its banking group Banco de Oro as minority shareholders.

Another Filipino block, the Alcantaras of Davao City, owns 19.99 per cent of Indophil.

Indophil's stock market value has suffered following the decision of Glencore to downsize operations and substantially cut costs in SMI.

On Monday, Nov. 4, Indophil shares were trading at AUS$ 0.1525 per share at the Australian Stock Exchange - way below from its record high of AUS$1.27 when Xstrata Ltd exercised its option over SMI in 2007.

In its Q3 2013 report, Laufmann said, "Indophil's share price implies a market value of $20-30 million below cash backing."

But Collery hastened to add that Indophil is in strong cash position.

"We are in very strong financial position with $218m in the bank," he said.

Town loses water to illegal miners

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8 November 2013

ROSARIO, Agusan del Sur-Officials here are pinning the blame for a water shortage gripping this town on the operations of illegal miners.

At least 16 illegal miners are operating here and being tagged as the reason for the drying up of a natural spring from which thousands of households draw water.

Nemesio Taganahan, chief of the local waterworks system, said the mining tunnels are about 400 meters below the ridge where a P47-million World Bank-funded water system development project is located, a spring called Maputi.

Residents expressed surprise when the spring, which supplied the entire town with water, dried up a day after the Oct. 15 7.2-magnitude quake that struck Bohol, Cebu and other parts of Visayas and Mindanao.

Local officials can't explain why the spring dried up so suddenly when it was abundant with water before the quake struck.

Taganahan said indiscriminate tree cutting by miners inside the watershed of the spring is a key factor in the drying up of the spring.

Timber from trees cut in the watershed is used by miners as stands in mining portals.

Residents said most of the mining tunnels are allegedly operated or financed by Mayor Jose Cuyos.

Other officials talked about shutting the tunnels down, but no action had been taken.

Fr. Allen Balasabas, parish priest of Rosario, said he, too, had been receiving information that the tunnels are being operated by the mayor.

Cuyos won't respond to calls or text messages asking for his reaction.

Cuyos, who used to earn a living as a habal-habal driver, rose to popularity here when he made a fortune from mining gold.

Cuyos' mining company, JTC Mining Corp., has expanded in gold-rush areas in Rosario including near the spring. The municipal environment and natural resources office last year reported the seizure of illegally cut logs in the area.

The drying up of the spring prompted the municipal government to ask the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to investigate and explain the phenomenon to the townsfolk.

Vice Mayor Julie Chua said he suspected that the earthquake triggered major movements in the earth's crust underneath this town, blocking the flow of water from the underground aquifer.

MGB geologists, however, who came to Rosario to investigate gave different versions of how the spring dried up.

Taganahan quoted some MGB officials as saying a drought may have caused the spring to dry up. The prolonged absence of rain in the area could have led to the spring drying up, Taganahan said.

"The forest in the ridge serves as a natural reservoir," Taganahan said.

Noli Arreza, MGB regional director in the Caraga, said he is still awaiting the report of the investigating team.

Arreza has recommended to local officials in Rosario the declaration of the spring as a protected area to prevent intrusion by mining operators. Chris V. Panganiban, Inquirer Mindanao

Mines bureau probes drying up of spring in Agusan  ... Illegal gold mines, earthquake, drought eyed as factors

By Chris V. Panganiban

Inquirer Mindanao

7 November 2013

ROSARIO, Agusan del Sur, Philippines - Officials here said about 16 illegal small-scale gold mining tunnels reportedly operated by a top local official of this gold-rich town could be to blame for the drying up of natural spring that caused a water crisis to thousands of households.

The mining tunnels are just about 400 meters below the ridge where P47-million World Bank-funded water system development project of Maputi Spring is located, according to Nemesio Taganahan, chief of the local waterworks system.

Affected residents were puzzled when Maputi Spring, which supplied practically the entire town with drinking water, dried up a day after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook Bohol and other parts of the Visayas as well as Mindanao, killing up to 180 people on October 15.

Even local officials were at a loss as to why the spring dried up so suddenly when it was flowing abundantly hours before the tremor struck.

Taganahan admitted the indiscriminate cutting of trees by miners inside the watershed of Maputi Spring have been a major contributing factor in the decline of water supply.

He said tunnel operators would always rely on cutting trees near the spring to be used as timber stands in the mining portals.

Concerned residents disclosed most of the mining tunnels near Maputi Spring have been allegedly operated or financed by Mayor Jose Cuyos that nobody would have dared to initiate a call to stop it. Municipal officials have discussed on the need to padlock the tunnels to protect the spring but only ended up only in talks and papers.

Father Allen Balasabas, parish priest of Catholic church in Rosario, said that many churchgoers have confided to him that most of the tunnels were operated by Cuyos.

"We have a pastoral council member who said that he is 99 percent sure that those tunnels are operated by the mayor," he disclosed.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried several times to get a reaction from Cuyos but he declined to grant an interview.

Cuyos, who used to drive a passenger motorcycle called "habal-habal" for a living, entered politics and became a mayor after a mining tunnel that ran through a patch of land he owned struck large deposits of high grade gold, making him a multi-millionaire and turning him into a popular figure in his town.

Cuyos' mining company, the JTC Mining Corporation, has expanded in many parts of gold rush areas in Rosario, including the mining tunnels near Maputi Spring. In 2012, the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office reported that large volumes of red lauan logs were seized by government operatives in the area.

As part of their corporate social responsibility, Philsaga Mining Corporation, a mining company holding a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement issued by Mines and Geosciences Bureau, started reforesting the watershed area but the local government did not keep up the reforestation project or take steps to protect the planted trees, even allowing more gold mining tunnels to be dug.

Engr. Ferdinand Cortez, resident manager of Philsaga Mining Corp., said the reforestation project was done with village officials in the Sta. Cruz village and was part of the company's "Adopt-A-Mining-Forest Program," since the area was near the perimeter of the company's MPSA claims.

The municipal government has asked the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to investigate the drying up of Maputi Spring and explain the phenomenon to the townsfolk.

Vice Mayor Julie Chua said he suspected that the earthquake triggered major movements in the earth's plates underneath this town, which in turn blocked the flow of water from the underground aquifer.

Chua said local officials would like to know if water would flow again on its own of it something could be done to bring the spring back to life. Otherwise, the multimillion-peso water system being installed would be a total loss.

But MGB geologists who came to Rosario a day after the story came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer have different initial findings after visiting Maputi Spring.

According to Taganahan, the MGB experts told the local inspecting team that the prolonged drought that lasted for more than two months might have caused the spring water to dry up.

He said based on an initial assessment by MGB men, the spring relied more on the precipitation from the forest in the area that the absence of rains for a long time could have dried up the water source.

"The forest in the ridge serves as a natural reservoir," Taganahan said, adding that small ponds around the top of the ridge have also dried up as a result of the long dry spell.

MGB Caraga Regional Director Noli Arreza, however, said he was still waiting for the final report of his staff who went to the area.

He said the findings on the drying up of the Maputi Spring would be complemented by the geohazard assessment of MGB of many areas in Agusan del sur.

Arreza has recommended to local officials in Rosario to formally proclaim through a municipal ordinance the watershed areas of Maputi Spring as a protected area to prevent the area from intrusion by mining tunnel operators.



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