How mining affects the lives of people in Eastern Samar

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Farmers and fishermen from Manicani island take their battle to Manila, as they call for the DENR to disallow the renewal of mining activities in their hometown. In photo: The Manicani island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Photo courtesy of KAMPUHAN NG MAMAMAYAN LABAN SA MALAKIHANG PAGMIMINA AT OPEN-PIT MINING

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Marcial Sumooc has traveled all the way to Manila from his hometown of Manicani island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Before an audience of Ateneo Law School students in Makati, he narrates the circumstances that led him far from home.

Sumooc is a farmer and fisherman. In Manicani, he cultivated pineapple, banana, ube, coconut, and jackfruit crops, among many others. But for the past month, he has been camping out with protesters in front of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources’ (DENR) central office in Quezon City, pleading for an audience with Sec. Roy Cimatu, to stop the renewal of open-pit mining in Manicani.

In Oct. 28, 1992, DENR, through the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) granted a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) to Hinatuan Mining Corporation (a subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corporation) to explore sources of nickel ore in 1,165 hectares of the island. The 25-year MPSA was suspended in 2002, and expired on Oct. 28, 2017, with HMC applying for renewal this year. Sumooc, who is president of the Save Manicani Movement, says they camp and protest in order to prevent HMC’s MPSA from being renewed.

Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, secretary general of the partylist Sanlakas, clarifies that the goal is not to ban mining outright. For this particular instance, what some citizens of Manicani hope for is for HMC to discontinue efforts to mine the area in the future, considering Manicani’s status as a protected area.

The Philippine Mining Act recognizes HMC’s now-expired mining permit. Sec. 112 of the law provides that the MPSA granted to HMC — as long as it is effective — should not be impaired or violated, in accordance with the non-impairment clause of the Constitution.

Photo-36 (1).jpg What some citizens of Manicani hope for is for Hinatuan Mining Corporation to discontinue efforts to mine the area in the future, considering Manicani’s status as a protected area. Photo courtesy of KAMPUHAN NG MAMAMAYAN LABAN SA MALAKIHANG PAGMIMINA AT OPEN-PIT MINING

But Pedrosa points out that as early as 1994, Presidential Proclamation 469, issued by Fidel V. Ramos, assigned the coastal areas of Guiuan, including Manicani, as part of the ‘Guiuan Marine Reserve,’ which falls under the ‘Protected Landscape and Seascapes’ category under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992. The proclamation, however, was subject to existing private rights at that time: in 1994, the MPSA over Manicani was still effective. Now that it has expired, Manicani’s status as part of a marine reserve should take precedence, says Pedrosa.

In 2005, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Eastern Samar enacted an ordinance prohibiting the large-scale extraction of minerals in the province. In 2012, Executive Order 79 banned mining in island ecosystems, making them a no-go zone for mining.

What is peculiar to Manicani’s case is the apparent approval of the majority of its population for mining, and their push for HMC’s mining permit to be renewed. Several resolutions from the Municipality of Guiuan and the Province of Eastern Samar have been issued to this effect, despite the 2005 ordinance against large-scale mineral extraction in the province.

“Lalong lumalalim ang hidwaan dahil sa barangay officials na kumakapit sa mining dahil sa pera." — Rebecca Destajo

In 2013, typhoon Yolanda first made landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The municipality, including Manicani, is yet to be fully rehabilitated.

For Pedrosa, this approval for mining is borne out of the lack of concrete development and other livelihood options in the area. “If they had to choose a livelihood that destroys their environment, and a livelihood that would preserve … there is no reason to doubt they will choose the latter,” he says. “But because there is lack of opportunity, lack of consciousness in the community, you can’t avoid the situation in the island.”

Some of Manicani’s residents — the ‘minority’ who puts up a protest — say that HMC’s mining activities have caused great damage to the local ecosystem. Sumooc says: “’Yung mga tanim, nasira, dahil sa alikabok … paubos ng paubos ang lupa kung itutuloy ang pagmimina.” While mining operations have purportedly stopped in Manicani (NAC previously stated in 2014 that the project is in a care-and-maintenance status) in light of the suspension of its permit in 2002, Sumooc says hauling of nickel ore stockpiles continued.

Photo-66 (2).jpg Human rights violations are also an issue, with Marcial Sumooc (a farmer and fisherman) recounting several protesters, like him, being run over or injured when they attempt to barricade loading operations. Photo courtesy of KAMPUHAN NG MAMAMAYAN LABAN SA MALAKIHANG PAGMIMINA AT OPEN-PIT MINING

Rebecca Destajo, a barangay kagawad, adds that mining activities have also caused pollution and siltation in the area. During the rainy season, water flows into low-lying areas and into the sea, making it dirty, thereby affecting fish and other marine life.

The Journal of Geography and Geology, in 2013, published an article touching the issue, stating that “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.”

Destajo also says mining in Manicani has affected its biodiversity (local monkeys and birds, specifically the abukay, have lessened in number, she says) aside from having caused severe conflict within its population.

Familial conflict has divided residents of the island, says Destajo. She personally experienced how her mother and aunt’s opposing views on mining kept them apart from each other. One of her cousins drove a vehicle and ran over another cousin, all because of their differences regarding mining. “Lalong lumalalim ang hidwaan dahil sa barangay officials na kumakapit sa mining dahil sa pera,” says Destajo.

Human rights violations are also an issue, with Sumooc recounting several protesters, like him, being run over or injured when they attempt to barricade loading operations.

‘Loading’ occurs when the remaining nickel stockpile (left over from previous mining operations) is hauled into a barge for transport. DENR previously allowed HMC to dispose of the nickel stockpiles to avert any “possible environmental damage caused by further calamities.”

Photo-32 (2).jpg Rebecca Destajo, a barangay kagawad, says that mining in Manicani has affected its biodiversity (local monkeys and birds, specifically the abukay, have lessened in number) aside from having caused severe conflict within its population. Photo courtesy of KAMPUHAN NG MAMAMAYAN LABAN SA MALAKIHANG PAGMIMINA AT OPEN-PIT MINING

In its 2016 sustainability report, Nickel Asia Corporation asserts that it is environmentally compliant, respecting and following all rules and requirements for responsible mining operations. The report also states that in 2016, following an audit, HMC was served a closure order and its permit revoked. NAC’s other subsidiary mining companies passed the audit.

Sumooc and his fellow protesters continue to wait for an audience with Sec. Cimatu. In May 2017, after succeeding Gina Lopez, Cimatu said he wants the mining industry to be put in a better light in the aftermath of negative publicity, calling  to “produce more output for the good and advancement of mining.”

While President Duterte has reiterated that he will uphold the ban on open-pit mining, Cimatu recommended to lift the ban imposed by his predecessor, Lopez, through a department order. But the ban remains, as clarified by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Among others, the Lopez-issued department order justifies the ban by stating that decommissioning and mine rehabilitation requires “perpetual maintenance works” that will outlive the mining companies’ existence, leaving the fate of the environment uncertain.

Rosalinda Bergado, a youth member for the Save Manicani Movement, camps with Sumooc and Destajo in DENR-Quezon City. As of Wednesday, the camp’s power sources have been cut off. Bergado worries about the family and friends she has left back home, as they wait for a definitive reply from Cimatu. The protesters from Manicani will not go home unless they bring good news from the city.

They are not doing this for themselves, but for those who will come after them. “’Di man maibalik sa dating anyo [ang Manicani],” says Bergado, “[sana] maka-survive sa susunod na henerasyon.