CANTILAN, Surigao del Sur—Despite torrential rain, close to 6,000 mine workers, indigenous peoples, scholars, fishermen and farmers rallied against the order of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez to close mining operations in Surigao del Sur at the town park here.
Lopez ordered the closure of 23 mining operations last week and canceled 75 Mineral Profit Sharing Agreements on Feb. 14.
The protesters said the Lopez order was an injustice to those who depended on the three mining operations—two in Carrascal town, CTP Mining and Carrascal Nickel Mining; and one in Cantilan, Marc Ventures Mining and Development Corp.
Cantilan Mayor Phillip Pichay said Lopez’s move to shut down mining would hurt close to 7,000 workers who would lose their jobs, and affect their families and communities as well.
Cantilan is the commercial center of the Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen, Lanuza area and home to Surigao del Sur State University and the St. Michael College.
Pichay said that close to P700 million circulates in the town annually.
“The salaries of the 464 Indigenous peoples from Barangay Cabangahan alone employed by MMDC amounts to P60 million annually and the workers spend it here,” Pichay said.
Pichay added that the salaries of the employed in Carrascal town is P600 million annually, about 30 percent or P180 million is spent in Cantilan.
Data from the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau showed that in Caraga Region, there are 16,090 regularly employed in mining, 15,600 of them in the CarCanMadCarLan area.
There are 300,000 individuals dependent on mining jobs—regular and seasonal employees and their families.
The figure does not include the downstream industries that are serving the communities.
Pichay said that though they support plans for eco-tourism, he said this would take long to develop.
“And you can’t employ all the 7,000 people expected to be displaced by the closure of the mining site.
Pichay said that the current bed capacity of Cantilan is just 75 beds and not one of them is of comparable quality to accommodation like Boracay or even Bohol.
“We need 2,000 tourists per week here spending P2,000 per day for at least for three days to substitute our losses in mining, but where would we house them?” Pichay asked.
“Eco-tourism would take five to six years to build and the government is not the one to construct it, but the private sector,” Pichay said.
Datu Engwan Ala, Carrascal’s mandatory indigenous peoples’ representative, said that they will be the hardest hit if the mining operations stop.
The Mamanwa-Manobo is the indigenous peoples of Surigao Peninsula.
Ala pointed out that they have been the most marginalized, most discriminated, poorest, forgotten and neglected people in the province.
“But mining has given us work and dignity,” Ala said.
Ala narrated that now that the mining companies are paying royalties for their ancestral domain, they have already 78 college students and one is about to finish his law studies in Manila.
Ala said that their communities have been developed because of the funding from the mining companies.
“Now we have schools, ambulance, we have work, we have dignity,” Ala said.
Ala said that before mining came, people looked down at them as uneducated, “They look down on us because we eat frogs and rice rats, but now we are educated, we have work, we are not ashamed anymore because of what mining have given us,” Ala said.
“We now have education, health, farming program, when the mining stops, we are vulnerable again to recruitment of the rebels,” Ala said.
Ala issued a plea to President Rodrigo Duterte to look into their plight and the benefits that mining have given them.
“I can’t control all of them, we don’t want them to go back into the mountains and carry guns,” Ala said.
Surigao del Sur Gov.Vicente Pimentel said Lopez’s closure orders would cut his town’s annual income from P210 million a year to only P1.5 million a year.
“We will file a petition to remove Lopez from DENR,” Pimentel said even as he lashed out against priests whom he said had misled people on mining.
“When you run out of work and hungry, you rob the priests first,” Pimentel said, noting that highway robbery was rampant in the Red Mountains before mining operations started.
Pimentel said he was confused by the government.
“Why put an unqualified person in DENR?” he said.
Miner Leo Santos said that the voice of the indigenous peoples’ have been put on the back burner in the closure of the mines.
“They have the final say on their ancestral lands, not Secretary Lopez,” Santos said.
“Without work, we can’t send our children to schools, we won’t have food, no house—it’s injustice,” Santos added.
Another miner Ramon Arpilleda said they would show Lopez a green revolution arising from mining operations when they start rehabilitation after a mine-out operation.
Mining company scholar Alexis Estampa said that he hoped the government would reconsider the closure order.
“It’s difficult not to be from a privileged family, Secretary Lopez. Do you want us to go back in time where it is difficult to live?” Estampa asked.
Pimentel, whose hometown Carrascal is home to one of the world’s largest mineral deposits, argued that Lopez, in her haste to shut down mining operations in Surigao del Sur did not follow due process and instead shut her eyes and ears to the mining industry.
“She did not follow due process, in fact, when they had an audit, the members of the audit team were the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), and the priests,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel questioned the findings of the mining audit, which was conducted by people who were not experts in the field.
He added that siltation existed in the Tago and Tandag rivers even before mining operations in the area began.
He added that the companies operating in his jurisdiction were following Australian standards of mining, and have done no damage to the environment.
Pimentel said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR inspects the mining sites every two weeks.
“The MGB together with the Multisectoral Monitoring Team, they inspect the mining operation and if there is any violation they are the ones who will stop the mining operatons, the DENR is always inspecting the mining operations,” Pimentel said.
“Gina Lopez said that the environment will be affected but there is already an endorsement by the Carrascal-Cantilan-MadricCarmen-Lanuza irrigators association that they support mining operations in Carrascal,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel said that mining companies already have dredging machines to remove heavy siltation as part of their mitigation on silts.
“Gina Lopez spoke about eco-toursim, how can that help Cantilan and Carrascal when there is not a single investment on tourism development? Where will you send people to work?” Pimentel said.
Pimentel also hit Lopez’s comment on “Water is life”, “How about the employees of the mining companies? They are human beings, don’t they have life?” Pimentel said.
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