Church supports local govt’s stand against mining in Catanduanes

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VIRAC, Catanduanes, Dec. 19, 2013—The Church strongly backs the call of Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) on President Benigno Aquino to immediately forfeit the Coal Operating Contract (COC) of Altura Mining Philippines, Inc. (AMPI), which was issued by the Department of Energy (DOE), to probe about 7, 000 hectares of land in the province for coal deposits, Assistant to the Chancellor Rev. Fr. Eric John T. Rojas said in an e-mail letter.

Since 2009, the SP has consistently rejected any attempt to explore – much more extract – the island province for coal reserves, when it passed SP Resolution 085-2009, otherwise known as “Resolution Strongly Opposing Mining Operations in the Entire Province of Catanduanes,” he said.

The resolution was SP’s response to the coal prospect pushed by AMPI and Monte Oro Mining in the province in 2009, Fr. Rojas said. In 2011, the SP also threw its consensus opposing Asianmines, Inc. application for mineral exploration filed before Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Regional Office V, and pressed on the same agency to deny the application.

On September 23, 2013, SP Resolution 183-201, otherwise known as “Resolution Enacting an Ordinance Declaring the Province of Catanduanes a Mining-Free Zone,” was passed, which underpins previous resolves of the SP to foil any coal prospect in the island.

The Church, for its part, has a consistent stand parallel to the strong position of the SP on any attempt to probe Catanduanes for mineral deposits, and eventually to drill coal.

“The Catholic Church, through the initiative and guidance of our dear Bishop, Most Rev. Manolo A. de los Santos, DD, has been opposing mining operation in the Island Diocese,” Fr. Rojas said. “The clergy of the diocese fully support the Bishop, and they are doing their best to campaign in their respective parishes against mining.”

In October this year, through the diocese’s Social Action Commission, thousands of locals from different parishes and non-governmental organizations backed and joined “Walk for A Cause” (Mina-Batlay, Mina-Kontra), he said. Religious organizations formed by the Katandungan Kontra Mina group also took part in the walk.

The Social Action Commission and the Katandungan Kontra Mina, an anti-mining group that binds NGO representatives and diocesan clergy, found in their study that mining operations will trigger ground surface and vegetation disturbances that will entail the construction of mining plant and its support facilities, Fr. Rojas said.

The two anti-mining groups also concluded that mining operations will prompt the soil to erode, causing water buildup in downstream rivers and creeks, he said. The siltation of the bodies of water in the area will eventually result in the overflow and flooding of the towns of Viga, Payo, Bagamanoc, San Andres, and Caramoan.

The study also found that “mine tailings from coal washing operation-chemical pollutants and coal residues will endanger the ecological balance in waterways and sea in any designated plant site and delivery points of the mining firm,” Fr. Rojas said.

According to the two anti-mining groups, Sunwest Water and Electric Company’s (SUWECO) 3.075 MW mini-hydro power plant energy generations may also suffer from mining operations in the watershed of Hitoma River, he said.

If SUWECO mini-hydro plant stops operation, the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative (FICELCO) consumers will be stripped of an estimated P20 million savings per annum, he said.

The study also concluded that the economic promises of coal mining to the province will not match the damages that will arise from floods, soil erosions, landslides, deforestation, and destructions to agriculture by coal mining operations, Fr. Rojas said.

With the SP, the entire Church hierarchy, and thousands of locals consistently opposed  to any mining prospect in the island, one is extremely motivated to contradict this collective and overwhelming stance, and dig. (Oliver Samson)

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