Mining Disasters in Zambales and Eastern Samar

A view of nickel-ore mine Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation ordered closed by Environment secretary Regina Lopez in Sta Cruz Zambales in northern Philippines February 7, 2017. Picture taken February 7, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

PRIVILEGE SPEECH – Rep. Tom Villarin, AKBAYAN Party List

11 December 2017

[Mr./Madam Speaker: I rise on personal and collective privilege.]

When Gina Lopez was appointed secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, advocates for the protection of the environment had high hopes for her order to close non-compliant large-scale open-pit mining, which dealt serious and irreversible damage to the environment.

Sec. Lopez used her agency’s mandate not only to uphold the rule of law in the protection of the environment but importantly, to give voice to the people who have been suffering from the consequences of open-pit mining in the Philippines.

She shut down 21 mining operations after a mining audit found them operating in functional watersheds and later ordered the cancellation of 75 mining contracts in watershed areas.

“You totally killed the mountain!,” a defiant Sec Gina Lopez told mining companies who lobbied against her confirmation.

This was also a direct reference to the Hinatuan Mining Corporation whose open pit mining operations since 1989 in the island of Manicani in Guian, Eastern Samar have become a classic example of the devastating effects of mining. What is striking is that HMC has been suspended since 2001 and its MPSA lapsed last October 2017. Now we are seeing the revival of its operations with the move of the company to apply for renewal!

On the other hand, four mining companies of Zambales province presently operating namely—Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation, BenguetCorp Nickel Mines Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., and Eramen Minerals, Inc. were those ordered shut down in February 2017 after a mining audit.

But what happened after Secretary Gina Lopez crusade came to an abrupt end after her non-confirmation is the “business as usual attitude of government.”

For more than two months now, people and communities who are affected by these devastating mining operations are camped out in Visayas Avenue in front of the DENR office. They are our people, the poor and marginalized, those who have long suffered because of the reckless greed of corporations and capitalists who have no souls or conscience.

Their cries were not heard by the newly confirmed Secretary Frank Cimatu, not even for the latter to dialogue with them. Is this how the DENR treats our people?

One of those people who has suffered in his lifetimes is Tatay Mario, now 60 years old, who has been fishing in the waters of Brgy. Malabago in the town of Sta. Cruz in Zambales for 23 years now.

Tatay Mario used to be able to support his family by catching and selling fish like malaga, lumahan, andsapsap until the waters turned into red and shallowed due to mud or burak, killing most of the fish that Tatay Mario and his fellow fisherfolk catch as their bread and butter.

To this day, Tatay Mario remains strong and physically able to help his son, who is a tricycle driver, support their family; but without fish to catch, he has nowhere to go.

Tatay Mario also recalled what happened when typhoon Lando hit their town in 2015. He told us that before, even if it rained incessantly for two weeks up to a month, flooding was never a problem. But with the presence the four mining companies, several residents died due to head-high floods. Tatay Mario personally knew some of them, and recalled that a similar flooding has happened when the dams were destroyed, causing a mixture of mud and water to rage down their communities.

My dear colleagues: it is one thing to lose one’s livelihood, but another to bear witness to the loss of lives.

The same traumatic experience was seen on the other side of the archipelago, in the small island of Manicani in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Being on the easternmost part of the Eastern Seaboard of the country, the island is no stranger to typhoons born in the Pacific Ocean. But when super typhoon Yolanda hit the islands of Manicani and Homonhon in 2013, all houses were destroyed and their livelihoods obliterated. Residents all pointed to the operations of HMC as a direct factor that exacerbated the devastation.

According to the prestigious Journal of Geography and Geology in 2013, the “Manicani Island nickel mining has reduced the amount of land available to farmers and siltation into the ocean has adversely impacted fishing; before  mining, agriculture and aquaculture could sustain the people of Manicani Island but now they have been made poorer.”

But surprisingly Mr. Speaker, last October 9, 2017, the Hinatuan Mining Corporation was endorsed by the Eastern Samar Provincial Board Resolution 17-241 to resume operations as the “HMC has been responsible and pro-active in attending our environmental and social concerns, and it is apparent that the issues raised for the suspension lacked scientific basis.”

Citing as basis for said resolution was an unnumbered and unsigned municipal resolution of the Guian Sangguniang Bayan. According to councilor Tom Sison, chair of the environment committee of the sanggunian, his committee did not endorse said municipal resolution. Even acting vice-governor Jonas Abuda, also from the Municipality of Guian, opposed and questioned such highly irregular PB resolution.

There seems to be a clear pattern here:

Mining companies can influence our local governments with promises of employment, investment, and development. But have they really made true such rosy promises? An empahtic No, Mr. Speaker!

The reverse is happening – people become poorer, health and livelihoods have severely deteriorated, their communities devastated with no chance of rehabilitation.

But our people are fighting back!

This is why residents of Sta. Cruz, Zambales found it necessary to line up on the highway and block the trucks that come and go into the mining sites, only to be dispersed by armed personnel.

This is why community in Manicani Island set up a blockade against the heavy equipment, resulting to the death of one mining worker, and one community leader.

In February of this year, all four mining companies in Zambales have already been ordered closed by the DENR. But last October, people have been reporting that the trucks and heavy equipment of Eramen Minerals, Inc. and the Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation have returned.

In Manicani Island, October would have marked then end of the quarter-century-long operations of the Hinatuan Mining Corporation, by virtue of the

expiration of mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) and their permit to renew operations has been turned down by DENR as there was no sustainable rehabilitation plan.

And mining companies suddenly have gained support from the LGUs, issuing resolutions bereft of community consultations and scientific evidence warning of the dire consequences of mining.

There is yet another pattern: Even if people file petitions for suspension or writ of kalikasan at the courts,ineffective or even contradictory impositions from either the local, national, or both levels, render the continuance or

discontinuance of mining operations practically unresolved.

And who benefits from this lack of effective resolution from the courts and DENR? The mining companies.

Therefore Mr./Madam Speaker, dear colleagues: It is clear that even under this administration—that was elected and is continuously being supported supposedly for its unwavering political will—the people have yet to see an effective crackdown on large-scale open-pit mining operations.

Kung gaano karahas ang administrasyong ito sa paglipol sa mga mahihirap na napagkamalang adik o pusher ng illegal na droga, ganoon naman ito kaamo sa mga mayayamang malinaw na lumalabag sa mga patakaran sa pagmimina at sa mga karapatan ng mga residente para sa isang komportableng buhay.

This representation recognizes that we have various bills on mining that are currently pending before the committees but as we continue to raise questions in those deliberations, we must provide the communities in Zambales and Eastern Samar immediate answers.

It’s time for closure on the closure of large-scale open-pit mining!

Thank you and good day to all.

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