By SHERWIN DE VERA
From reef to ridge and for many years, the people of Ilocos suffered from the ill effects of mining. Decades of magnetite extraction along the shorelines caused massive erosion in the Province of La Union and Ilocos Sur. Waste from upland mining operations, especially in the Cordilleras, polluted rivers and streams.
We do not have to go far to concretize this claim. The gradual death of the Abra River because of mining pollution primarily caused more than eight decades of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s operation is a glaring illustration. Fast receding shoreline in Metro Vigan is sad, dangerous and an unforgettable legacy of magnetite extraction and the politicians that promoted and condoned the illegal and plunderous operations.
Secretary Regina Lopez’s effort to clamp down on destructive mine continue to fall into naught because the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a flawed law remains to be in effect. This and the efforts of mining oligarchs and their cohorts in the Duterte government to undermine her decisions make mining a continuing threat to lives, livelihood and environment under the current regime.
As of March 2017, mining applications cover 57, 021 hectares or about 34% of the total land area of the three Ilocos Provinces (La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte). Magnetite sand remains the top commodity followed by gold, silver and copper, and third is limestone.
During their regular session on April 17, the Provincial Board of Ilocos Sur passed a resolution opposing the exploration of the Cordillera Exploration Company, Incorporated (CEXCI). The company, a subsidiary of mining giant Nickel Asia, has an application for a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) covering 19,989.49 hectares in the Municipalities of Cervantes, Del Pilar, Quirino and San Emilio. Another resolution declaring the Province as a mining-free zone is currently under deliberation. These efforts from the provincial officials came after the House Committee on Natural Resources conducted an onsite inquiry on the impacts of mining operations in the Ilocos and the Cordillera, and people from Cervantes launched a petition against CEXCI.
However, the strength of these legislations and petitions against mining depends on the willingness of the people, especially if the affected communities are to assert for the implementation these instruments. The broad and militant mass movement remains to be the top and most effective weapon against the plunder and destruction of the environment perpetuated by mining companies.
While the fight against destructive mining continues to gain ground in the region in the past five years, especially in Ilocos Sur, a large number of people remain to be passive for a number of reasons. The recent uproar in Cervantes against CEXCI made this author decide to republish this article, posted by DEFEND Ilocos on June 20, 2015. The content focuses on the issue of mining in Quirino but the spirit holds true to all cases of the anti-mining struggle in the region.
On the Ilocos Sur public consultation on mining
The Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur (PGIS) will conduct a public consultation on the mining operation in the Municipality of Quirino at the Provincial Capitol on June 23 starting at 9A.M.. The activity stemmed from the result of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board’s (PMRB) meeting last May 26. The PMRB decided to legalize the mining operation in Quirino in the pretext that when legalized the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the PGIS can regulate it and prevent further environmental damage.
Here are five reasons why the issue does not only concern the affected communities, government officials, the church and environmental groups.
1. There is no such thing as responsible mining under the current mining policy of the country. The principle behind the PMRB’s strategy is that – when the mining operation in Quirino is legalized then they can regulate it and encourage responsible mining. However, our experience with the capacity of the PGIS and MGB Region I (MGB-I) to implement sound environmental governance has already proven that both agencies utterly failed the people.
For starters, MGB-I issued a Mineral Processing Permit for the extraction of magnetite sand without an actual site inspection where the extraction would take place, providing an opportunity for the operator to extract magnetite sand in a no-mining zones along the coast of Metro Vigan. The PGIS on the other hand condoned and defended the undertaking despite the overwhelming evidence against the legitimacy of the operation. The provincial leadership did not act on a number of Cease-and-Desist Orders (CDO) issued by MGB-I from January to May 2013. On the contrary, the PGIS was one of those who questioned the issuance of the CDOs.
In the case of the Quirino mining operation, the PGIS, the local government of Quirino and MGB-I are equally liable for the degradation of the ecosystems. The operation started as early as 2008 but MGB-I only issued a CDO on March 2012 and May 2015. Despite the March 2012 CDO, local officials of Quirino did not make any decisive step to implement the order. Instead, they encouraged the intensification of the operation by allowing a Chinese company with a bad record in Mindanao to operate a mineral processing plant bypassing all environmental laws of the government. For its part, the PGIS initiated a public inquiry through the Sangguniang Panglalawigan on December 2012.
However, the Committee on Environment chaired by SP Member Robert Tudayan who led the inquiry did not make any report on the matter. To make things worse, SP Member Tudayan claimed that no resident of Quirino spoke during the dialogue. Despite so many petitions and prodding from the church and environmental groups, the PGIS did not lift any finger to resolve the matter.
2. The outcome of this issue will be a precedent to similar cases that the people of Ilocos Sur may encounter in the future. If we allow the PGIS and MGB-I to continue with their plan to legalize a destructive and illegal operation since 2008, it will further embolden politicians and businessmen behind this plunderous activity to do it over and over again at the expense of our province’s people and resources.
However, if we are able to show our concern and concerted effort to protect our natural resources by thwarting their scheme, then we can deliver a strong message that the people of Ilocos Sur stand united against plunderous mineral extraction and other environmentally destructive projects. Keep in your heart and mind– the people united, will never be defeated!
3. Quirinians are not the only ones affected. Other municipalities, including the Heritage City of Vigan are affected by the mining wastes being dumped in the Balas-iyan River, one of the major tributaries of the Abra River. Considering that the Abra River is already suffering from the operation of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, the continuing mining operation in Quirino will further degrade the quality of the river. This means: more incidents of fishkill and contaminated fish yields from the Abra River; contamination of farm and rice fields irrigated by the Banaoang Pump Irrigation System; and more sediments to block the river flow, disfigure the adjacent beaches and cover coral reefs and sea grass beds.
Evidently, allowing this operation to continue increases the threat to our food and environmental security. It will heighten the dangers posed by the continuing siltation of the Abra River. Sitan Creek in Patiacan, Quirino, the bluish color of the water and stains on the rocks are signs of copper contamination.
4. If we were in the shoes of the Quirinians, we would definitely welcome the concern and support from other people and organizations. Farming and fishery are the main sources of livelihood in the area. Creeks, streams and the Balas-iyan River are vital parts of the day-to-day life of six barangays – Patiacan, Patungcaleo, Lamag, Banoen, Malideg and Cayus comprised of ten communities with 4,846 individuals affected.
Imagine yourself living in a place where the sources of a fundamental element for survival – water, spoiled if not forever destroyed. Think of being part of the community were two massive fishkills happened in a span of 2 months. Picture being part of a farming family whose farm yield continues to decrease, somewhere down to almost half because of the contaminated irrigation. Visualize a source of water supply for your home located just below the ridge where a number of leaching ponds containing cyanide and other hazardous chemicals.
Finally, think of being part of the community in the above situation submitting scores of petitions and appeals to the local officials who are supposed to serve them and ensure their welfare, but receive no action in return. Surely, concerns and support from other people are remarkable morale boosters, an added reason to persevere in the struggle. Besides, the victory of the people of Quirino against the mining menace will not only serve them, but the downstream communities as well.
5. We are responsible not only for our present needs but more so for the future generations. As a well-known quotation goes – we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. We are bound by our inter-generational responsibility to ensure that the next generation will be able to enjoy the Earth’s resources and beauty. We do not do justice for our children by keeping silent and indifferent on this issue. Silence breeds injustice and impunity – do not be part of those who side with the exploiters and oppressors. If we do nothing now, it will be hard for us in the future to look our children straight in the eye when they ask what we did to protect the thing that we have borrowed from them.
These reasons hold true even for other environmental issues such as the expansion of Lepanto in Mankayan-Tadian-Cervantes, the extraction of magnetite in our coastal areas, and the cutting of trees in Currimao, Ilocos Norte to cite a few. We are in a brink of ecological collapse, its either we act now or pay a dear price later.
Thus, we enjoin everyone to support and participate in the struggle against destructive mining. Express your thoughts on the issue and register your support for the call to stop the mining plunder. Let us urge the PGIS to ponder on ways to decisively oppose and stop the operation and implement rehabilitation measures in the affected areas. For those who support this campaign but are unable to attend for practical reasons, you may send your statement of support or position paper to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on our Facebook account – Defend Ilocos. We will ensure that your thoughts will be delivered to the concerned individuals and agencies. # nordis.net