Manila Bulletin

‘Ka­likasan’ en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion group backs DENR, calls for new min­ing pol­icy

- By ELLALYN DE VERA-RUIZ Business · Ecology · Mining · Industries · Department of Environment and Natural Resources · Visayas · Rodrigo Duterte · Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development · Irish Department of Agriculture and Food · Zambales · Philippines · Beijing · Manila · Manchester City Football Club · Santa Cruz, Manila

Fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s crack­down on min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, en­vi­ron­ment ad­vo­cates ap­pealed to the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DENR) yes­ter­day to take the next im­por­tant step and sup­port calls for a new min­ing pol­icy.

“(DENR) Sec­re­tary (Gina) Lopez must work with Congress to push for House

Bill 2715, the Peo­ple’s Min­ing Bill, to re­place the Min­ing Act of 1995 that is the root of these prob­lems,” Ka­likasan Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tor Cle­mente Bautista said.

“A new pro­gres­sive min­ing pol­icy will strengthen the man­date of the cur­rent thrust to ef­fec­tively reg­u­late min­ing and bal­ance en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, na­tional devel­op­ment, and peo­ple’s rights,” he said.

Bautista lauded the DENR’s move to can­cel 75 min­ing agree­ments lo­cated in­side water­shed ar­eas.

“By re­mov­ing the threats of for­est de­nuda­tion, wa­ter pol­lu­tion, marine degra­da­tion, and bio­di­ver­sity loss posed by im­pacts of large-scale min­ing, we are as­sured our agri­cul­ture and fish­eries pro­duc­tiv­ity can be bet­ter de­vel­oped,” he said. “Main­tain­ing healthy wa­ter­sheds in these ar­eas will guar­an­tee that our pop­u­la­tion will have ad­e­quate, clean, and safe wa­ter sup­ply for ir­ri­ga­tion and do­mes­tic wa­ter needs.”

Two weeks af­ter re­leas­ing the re­sults of the DENR min­ing au­dit, Lopez an­nounced last Tues­day the can­cel­la­tion of a to­tal of 75 min­eral pro­duc­tion shar­ing agree­ments (MPSAs) in wa­ter­sheds all over the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to DENR, there are 37 MPSAs in Min­danao, 11 in Visayas, and 27 in Lu­zon that will be can­celled.

“If we can main­tain our re­main­ing forests in­tact and our rivers free of sil­ta­tion from min­ing op­er­a­tions, there is lesser like­li­hood of flash­floods and land­slides dur­ing heavy rain­fall and typhoons,” Bautista said.

“The crack­down of DENR Sec­re­tary Lopez against erring large-scale mines and the junk­ing of MPSAs in the water­shed ar­eas are ex­cel­lent ac­tions for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion,” he added.

The group urged other gov­ern­ment of­fices to work with the DENR to cush­ion the im­me­di­ate im­pacts of the min­ing crack­down to its work­ers by pro­vid­ing aid and al­ter­na­tive liveli­hood.

“The P2-bil­lion aid an­nounced by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte for dis­placed mine work­ers can be coursed through the Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and Devel­op­ment. Agen­cies for ru­ral devel­op­ment such as the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Depart­ment of Agrar­ian Re­form can help min­ing com­mu­ni­ties by dis­tribut­ing land and sup­port ser­vices to the dis­placed min­ing com­mu­ni­ties,” he said.

Col­lat­eral dam­age Mean­while, a worker at the nickel mine op­er­ated by Era­men Min­er­als, Inc., near Sta. Cruz, Zam­bales, that was ini­tially sus­pended in July for en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fenses, and later or­dered to shut for good, was found dead and hang­ing in his kitchen. A lap­top charger ca­ble was tied around his neck.

His brother had kept on telling Win­ston Or­donez that the mine would re­open and he would be hired again: but when Or­donez didn’t get a call from the min­ing firm, he was later found hang­ing.

“He be­came de­pressed. He said his life was worth­less,” his wi­dow, Leni Modelo, told Reuters from their home where she is now rais­ing their seven-year-old boy on her own. “He tried to find work in city hall but there was none.”

The Philip­pines is the world’s top nickel ore sup­plier and China’s huge de­mand for the raw ma­te­rial that makes stain­less steel meant there was a cap­tive mar­ket for the four big mines in the Sta. Cruz area.

But the sus­pen­sion and clo­sure of the mines by Lopez has meant thousands of jobs have dis­ap­peared in Sta. Cruz. A cru­sader for the en­vi­ron­ment, Lopez has or­dered the shut­down of 23 of the coun­try’s 41 op­er­at­ing mines. She stepped up her crack­down on Tues­day, can­celling al­most a third of the coun­try’s con­tracts for un­de­vel­oped mines.

The min­ing sec­tor em­ployed 219,000 peo­ple as of end-Septem­ber last year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data. But the planned clo­sures and the sus­pen­sion of an­other five mines will af­fect about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies and busi­nesses that rely on min­ing for a liveli­hood, ac­cord­ing to Artemio Disini, head of the Cham­ber of Mines of the Philip­pines.

At Era­men’s mine, com­pany pres­i­dent En­rique Fer­nan­dez said the head­count had dropped to 150 from more than 1,000 pre­vi­ously and more work­ers could go by the end of this month.

In a nearby mine run by Zam­bales Di­ver­si­fied Me­tals Corp. (ZDMC), owned by prop­erty-to-power firm DMCI Hold­ings, Inc., the num­ber of work­ers has fallen to un­der 50 from a peak of 1,200, said Hen­drik Martin, man­ager at ZDMC.

Ron­ald Esquiray, 39, was among those laid off. He now weaves bam­boo strips to make walls for small huts, which pays half of what he used to earn in a day.

Many who lost their jobs tried their luck in Manila, Esquiray said, in­clud­ing his 20-year-old son who found work at a con­struc­tion project.

Res­i­dents hit mines

Many res­i­dents of Sta. Cruz won’t miss the min­ing. They say it de­nuded moun­tains, lead­ing to heavy flood­ing in val­ley vil­lages. Lo­cals also blame the mines for the sil­ta­tion of farm­lands and rivers, and the de­struc­tion of the main road that heavy trucks used to rum­ble along car­ry­ing ore to the port.

Martin from ZDMC said min­ing is de­mo­nized so rou­tinely in ser­mons at his lo­cal church that he has stopped at­tend­ing the weekly ser­vice.

When it rains heav­ily here, thick mud rolls down from mine sites in the moun­tains, con­tam­i­nat­ing farm­lands and streams be­low with nickel la­t­erite ore.

Min­ing com­pa­nies scrape the la­t­erite off plant­ing ar­eas, but farm­ers and res­i­dents say it is only pushed to the side, sub­merg­ing parts of houses. And the crop yield is far smaller than be­fore, forc­ing farm­ers to use more fer­til­izer.

Rice farmer Ed­uardo Mo­rano lost money on his last crop as the har­vest from his one-hectare plot more than halved. “I had to sell one of my an­i­mals to pay off debt. Then I had to take a new loan to buy more fer­til­izer,” he said.

The sil­ta­tion has spread to rivers, said Edgardo Obra, vice chair­man of the Con­cerned Cit­i­zens of Santa Cruz, point­ing to one that he says had al­most dried up be­cause of the silt. “Kids used to dive here.”

Fish­er­men have to go far­ther into sea due to the sed­i­ment build-up closer to land, he said, adding that only a few town of­fi­cials ben­e­fit from the funds al­lo­cated by min­ing com­pa­nies to help com­mu­ni­ties around them.

“I feel like we were fooled,” said Obra, a Bap­tist pas­tor. As a for­mer vil­lage of­fi­cial, he ap­proved min­ing in the area but was dis­mayed two years later by the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age. (With a re­port from Reuters)

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