By KYLE EDWARD FRANCISCO
QUIRINO, Ilocos Sur – more than 200 representatives from the different communities here led by Save Quirino Movement (sqm) and Katribu Indigenous Peoples Partylist challenged Mayor Clifford Patil-Ao and mining company representatives during the provincial inquiry and dialogue on mining operations in this municipality last December 7, 2012.
The activity was the result of a petition filed by SQM on August 12, 2012 with the Committee on Environment of the Sanguniang Panlalawigan urging the concerned local government units regional agencies to ensure the rule of law and regulate mining activities in the area.
During the dialogue, two separate petitions supporting the call of SQM were submitted. The first was from the representatives of the downstream barangays, and the online copy of the petition calling to halt mining operations in the area was also forwarded by representatives of Save Agudong Online Group, composed of Quirino born individuals who are working or residing abroad and other places in the country.
Defend Ilocos against mining plunder (Defend Ilocos) and Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) representatives were invited by the Committee on Environment to attend the inquiry also to provide technical and scientific inputs on the issue.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the key agency did not attend despite an early notice sent by Atty. Robert Tudayan, Chairperson of the Committee on Environment who facilitated the dialogue.
Stop LSM, regulate SSM
The petition, which calls for immediate action from local government officials raised the following concerns: the peoples opposition to the extension of mineral exploration and large scale mining (LSM) operations Freeport McMoran, and the construction of an alleged Carbon-in-Pulp (CIP) plant in barangay Patangkaleo, the prohibition of leaching ponds, and the regulation of small scale mining (SSM) in Barangay Patiacan.
According to Raul Parol, one of the convenors of SQM, Freeport McMoran failed to consult all the affected communities before the companies mining operations. He pointed that while Freeeport was able to secure an extension for its operation, a significant number of residents of Patiacan are staunchly opposing the said extension.
Parol also critized the lack of consultation prior to the construction of an alleged CIP in Patungcaleo, along the Abra river by Chinese investors backed by Mayor Patil-ao and Governor Luis Singson. SQM and other residents of downstream communities have called for the halt of construction.
Rudy Valdez Sr. another member of SQM and a resident of Patungcaleo expressed the peoples concern on the use of leaching ponds and dumpibntg of mine wates in the Ballasian Rivers by miners in Patiacan. Citing posible contamination of Patungcaleo’s residential water source and dwindling catch from Ballasian, Valdez urged the small scale miners, barangay and municipal officials to come with a decesive action to9 stop the indiviuals using leaching ponds and ensure regulation of SSM in the area.
He also explained that SQM is not calling for the stop of SSM operations, since they recognize that it is a part of the people’s economic activity especially for those who haver no lands to till, but miners should also take measures to minimize the negative impacts of their activities to agriculture and fisheries.
Outright lies and violations
Chinese investors, representing South Ocean mining Company who oversee the construction of the alleged CIP along the Abra River were invited to explain the nature of the structure. They were quick to dismiss the allegations of the people that the structures and equipments were for CIP plant, but rather for an ore mill and separator for copper concentrates.
Mayor Patil-ao supported the investors and shared that Gov.Singson was supportive of the project because of its supposed benefits for the communities , and aid in minimizing mining waste pollution from SMM operations. The mayor also assured the people that no chemicals will be used, “safe and responsible mining” will be practiced.
However, when SQM members and Defend Ilocos representatives asked if the Chinese investors were able to secure Free Prior Inform Consent(FPIC), Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) and a business plan duly approved by the Sanguniang Bayan, both the company representatives and mayor Patil-ao admitted that none of the said requirements were complied with.
The revelation prompted the community representatives to further question and doubt the claims of the company representatives and Mator Patil-ao on the supposed “safe and responsible mining” practice.
In response, Mayor Patil-ao explained that the company is trying to secure the necessary permit but the governor cannot issue one since there supposedly is a ban on the issuance of ECC. He also added that to make sure that South Ocean will not use chemicals, a test run of plant and equipment will be undertaken.
Charlie Atimpao of Katribu explained that securing FPIC is a requirement before any projects can be implemented in areas occupied by indigenous peoples. “In fact, FPIC is part of the requirement to acquire an ECC” he added.
Defend Ilocos in a statement chided Patil-ao for his “ignorance of the Environment Impact Assesmnet Requirement and other prerequisites before an environmentally critical project is undertaken”, and for his “lame excuses on the supposed ban of issuance of ECCs”.
The statement further explained that “no directives from the president or the DENR have mentioned a ban on the issuances of ECC” and that allowing the construction and test run without the necessary consultation for permits is outright illegal that may leave irreversible negative impacts on the environment and may amplify conflicts. # nordis.net