By MARY LOU MARIGZA
APARRI, Cagayan – Community dialogues in magnetite mining affected communities expressed strong opposition to foreign companies mining the Rio Grande de Cagayan and the beaches of the Babuyan channel.
A documentation mission organized by Alyansa ng mga Mamamayan Laban sa Dayuhang Kontrol na Pagmimina last August 15 to 19 in the towns of Camalaniugan and Aparri noted the opposition of the people to foreign mining in their billages. The documentation mission was participated in by Amihan (women peasant organization in Cagayan), Katinnulong Daguiti Umili iti Amianan (Kaduami), Kagimongan (peasant organization) and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
In Allacapan where there is manganese mining, the people have expressed alarm over the eroding riverbanks that caused scores of houses to be destroyed as well as infrastructures that were washed down the river during strong typhoons. Mothers expressed concern over their children’s health as they breathe in the dust blown into the atmosphere by the black sand mining operations.
Residents of Sapping and Dugo in Camalaniugan recounted that prior to the entry of magnetite mining by foreigners, river bank erosion was only a meter or so. But after the extraction activities, the communities even in higher grounds now experience flooding and the river is eating up the riverbanks several meters at a time inland.
The Rio Grande de Cagayan is now a menace instead of an aid to agriculture and livelihood.
Mothers said that even if no storm signal is raised over Cagayan if the rains are strong over Magat dam and Chico river, they have always evacuated as the dam releases water and Chico river overflows. They said the worst flooding they experienced was during the Typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Juan where they were forced to live in their banca (canoe) as water was slow to subside.
Fisherfolks whose livelihood depends on the river said that the fish stock is now scarce. They attributed this to the murkiness of the water after the mining operations, so the fish migrate upstream where the waters are clearer.
They recounted stories of catching plentiful delectable ipon that was once abundant in the river. Or the magical ludong that is a gift of the Cagayan river to the people of the valley. They hardly see a ludong anymore.
Merci, a former village official of Dugo, narrated how the people clapped when a barge filled with magnetite grounded in a shallow part of the river. “ Serves you right for you are stealing our sands,” the people shouted as the men on the barge were calling for aid. They celebrated the victory of the people of Jurisdiction, Lal-lo who evicted the boats and barges getting magnetite sand for illegally mining without permit.
When asked if the mining company or the local government unit informed them of the mining, they said no consultation happened. The officials had informed them that the river will be dredged but they were surprised when the boats and barges kept coming for more black sand. Many of them told the documentation team, “The big boats and barges just appeared. They fill the barges with black sand, leave, then come back.”
Many of the interviewees were once living in Felipe Tuzon across the river that evacuated to the center and are now renting the lots where their houses stand from private individuals who were kind enough to provide them the space. At daytime, some of them go back to tend the fields that were not washed out in Felipe Tuzon to augment fishing that has now become scarce.
In Sapping, there is an ongoing riverbank rehabilitation project costing some P42 million for a 100 meter embankment. “If only that money were used to build schools and roads, we would be happier,” a mother lamented.
The people of Punta and Bisagu in Aparri face the same problems on a magnified scale since the sea and the river flood them. The fisherfolks reported the same problem of riverbank erosion and reduced fish catch. Most of them have ready floaters in case of flood. Typhoon Juan soaked the marshy homeland of the people of Bisagu for more than a week.
Some of them evacuated to as far as Bukuig, Allacapan since the water rose so high and they could not cross Cagayan River. They said their evacuation plans involved the women and children going first and the men staying behind to care for the animals that could not be evacuated and stay on their roofs. If the roofs are breached, then the men follow with the animals in the boats. This happened during Typhoon Pepeng and Juan.
The older people narrated that the elementary school they went to was about a kilometer to the river that was eaten up by the rising waters and erosion. Now the school is built deeper inside the barrio but even then the floodwaters still reach it up to the windows. A sandbank now exists in the mouth of the Rio Grande de Cagayan where they gather firewood washed by the river during floods. They fear the coming of the next storm and the next flood since they said the waters keep rising each year.
Shellfish that used to abound in the banks are now gone. They recounted getting kaggo, unnuk and many more from the sand but now these can hardly be found. Like in Camalaniugan, sometimes they take a day off from fishing since they are just wasting their money for gasoline for a measly two kilos catch unlike five years ago when they used to fish everyday and their boats were loaded.
In Punta, the former barangay officials told the team that a meeting by local officials was called to inform the people that a canned goods factory was going to be built in Punta. Much to their surprise no factory was built instead a steady flow of barges getting black sand is what they witnessed. The area remains an informal settlers abode with the threat of demolition always hanging over them. The succession of elected officials promised to give them relocation areas but since it is a vote-rich place they have remained, with eviction any time looming.
The magnetite mining site in Punta does not bear any signage. But the compound houses four backhoes working 24/7, several dump trucks filled with black sand, mounds and mounds of black sand and “reject” as the people call them, separator machines and a drilling machine that shakes the houses of the people when operating. The people in the vicinity could not open their doors and windows since the wind will blow the dust inside their homes. They said the last ship left about two weeks before the documentation team arrived.
They described the ships as having suction hoses reaching the bottom of the river and spewing the “rejects” through another pipe while the barges that have earlier been filled continue to load the ships. As soon as the ships are full, they leave Aparri to ports unknown while the barges stay to fill up.
The magnetite mining from the ships or from the beach has been going on since 2008. The mining site is just moved from village to another. The people have expressed alarm at the damage the mining is causing but local officials seem deaf to their pleas.
A minor victory was achieved by the people of Gonzaga, Cagayan when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a suspension of operations order against Lian Xing Phils. Stone Carving Co. Corp. and Huaxia Mining and Trading Corporation last April 29 for violating their contracts on magnetite mining. This, even as some leaders were charged with libel for airing the magnetite mining in their areas.
The people on the river and the sea in Cagayan affected by magnetite mining continue with their opposition as they seek all means possible to preserve their fragile marine environment.