MANILA, September 5, 2014 — Local Church authorities warn of renewed violence if the government will continue to allow a mining company to transport nickel ore stockpiles off an island in the southernmost tip of Eastern Samar.
On Wednesday, tension erupted after residents of Manicani Island in Guiuan town formed a human barricade to stop Nickel Asia Corp. (NAC) from loading ore stockpiles.
Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez appealed to both the government and the mining firm to prevent a situation where life will be lost because of mining.
“I am vehemently against the violence that has happened upon loading of stockpiles, and the accidents it brought to the residents of the island and I fear that it may happen again should the loading persist,” Varquez said.
The struggle against mining has been among the concerns of the diocese after a mining engineer was killed by angry residents after a heated argument in 2000. A year later, the son of an anti-mining leader also died after being hit by the mining company’s dump truck during a demonstration.
The diocese also kept an eye on the military and local police amid reports of harassment allegedly committed in the past against anti-mining residents whose sustainable livelihood from farming and fishing is threatened.
For more than two decades now, the mining issue also continues to serve as a living symbol of divided Manicani.
“It also pains us to witness the current division of the island upon the entry of mining and we wish for the residents to move on from opposing each other,” Varquez said.
The operation of Hinatuan Mining Corp., NAC’s subsidiary, has been suspended since 2001 for causing aquatic and soil erosion. It has since then sought permit to haul and load more than 150,000 tons of ore stockpiles.
This suspension includes the cessation of exploration, operation, extraction, and disposal, except for care and maintenance by the company. According to the bishop, the permit to transport, therefore, goes against the suspension.
In July this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines of Geosciences Bureau released an authorization for hauling and loading to the company based on an endorsement from Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson. The suspension, however, remains to be in effect.
On Tuesday, Varquez and some clergy met with Lacson in Manila to discuss how the mining firm got the authority to load nickel ore stockpiles now that it is still suspended.
Borongan’s Diocesan Social Action Center chair Fr. Juderick Paul Calumpiano, who was privy to the meeting, said Lacson requested NAC to haul and load ore stockpiles as part of the agency’s rehabilitation and recovery efforts.
According to OPARR’s endorsement letter, the disposal of stockpiles is a mitigating measure against any possible adverse environmental effect that may worsen calamities.
However, a test conducted by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Manicani’s bodies of water turned out negative from the hazard posed by siltation.
This sparked the questioning of the validity of the endorsement and authorization by the local church and anti-mining groups.
The Borongan diocese said the HMC also violated the Interim Mines Permit (IMP) allowing the company to extract only up to a maximum of 250,000 metric tons of nickel ore as it exceeded the required extraction cap volume, amounting to roughly a million metric tons.
He said this led to yet another problem on how the mining firm to stockpile much more than what is required by the IMP.
“To add to this, the said company was a able to load more than the prescribed cap volume of ore reaching to about 300 metric tons, which is another violation of IMP,” the diocese said in a petition letter to MGB Director Leo Jasareno dated August 4.
“Upon extraction and given the said conditions, this is illegal ore and should not be loaded by the company or anyone. More so, the company bases its operation on IMP which is currently expired, and that the company’s operation is not covered by MPSA to date,” they said.
The clergy also said that they do not desire that the vulnerabilities of typhoon Yolanda survivors be taken advantage of.
“Not only did the conspicuous timing of loading happened right the after typhoon when people were most vulnerable, the said company also began providing relief assistance to the victims for, and we dare say, it to win favor among the people as if to be an exchange for the company’s assistance,” they added.
‘Adding insult to injury’
Various civil society organizations, including residents of Manicani, staged a rally yesterday outside the DENR in Quezon City to press the agency to withdraw the permit they issued to the NAC.
“This move is adding insult to injury,” said Marcial Gomooc, President of Save Manicani Movement (SaMaMo).
“We are still reeling from the destruction caused by Yolanda to our lives and home and here comes the government taunting us with yet another disaster,” he said.
From DENR, the demonstrators marched to the MGB main office, while another group picketed in front of NAC office in Taguig City. A simultaneous rally was also held outside the MGB regional office in Tacloban City.
Fr. Oli Castor of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) condemned the action taken by DENR-MGB “because we all know that HMC’s intention has always been run by capitalistic greed and not by concern for the environment.”
“It seems like MGB is creating a trend here that empowers mining companies to do their business-as-usual thing under the guise of concern for the environment,” Castor said.
“First they lifted the suspension of Marcventures Mining Development Corporation in Surigao del Sur, second Philex was steered clear and now HMC? It’s horrifying to think about what tricks they are going to pull next just to cater to the cold-blooded capitalistic intentions of the mining industry.” he said. (CBCPNews)