“There is no truth to the claims of mining companies that they bring development and progress to the lives of the residents or to the local economy. They call a poisoned sea ‘progress’? They call beaches drying up and mountains levelled ‘progress’? And how could they say that they are helping residents when so many of us are jobless or underemployed?”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Antonio Casitas is 74 years old and an enemy of irresponsible mining. In the Bicol Region, he is a recognized and respected peasant leader and environmental activist. For the rest of the Philippines, he is one of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary residents who denounce large-scale mining operations of transnational corporations and their local partners that reduce entire forests and mountain ranges into wastelands.
“The mining companies will never be able to convince me that they mean well for the Filipino people or the economy. They come into the Philippines, start their operations and rake in money — all at the expense of the environment and Filipinos. They destroy forests, mangroves, mountain areas. They poison lakes, rivers and the smaller bodies of water like streams. Not content, they employ thousands of armed elements including soldiers and paramilitary forces to protect their machines, guard the areas they have so immorally and unjustly claimed as theirs, and kill citizens who have the courage to stand up against them,” he said.
The spokesman of Umalpas-Ka Bicol ((Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagmimina at Kumbersyong Agraryo), and Head Servant of Sagip Isla Sagip Kapwa (SISK), an island-wide organization, Casitas lives in one of the 13 barangays on the island of Rapu-Rapu in Albay. For the last decade, Rapu-Rapu has become well-know to the public because of the massive protests against the destructive operations of the Canadian mining company Lafayette and its Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project (RRPP). Casitas has been against mining in the island from day one.
“When ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to Rapu-Rapu in 2003 or 2004, she made it appear that all of us residents were supportive of Lafayette’s operations and that we had given our approval for them. We stood there listening, and I remember thinking how blatantly, how shamelessly we were being taken for a ride. We were promised development, employment, economic progress; but almost a decade later, all these promises have long been exposed to be vicious, cruel lies,” he said.
All his life he has worked alternatingly as a farmer and as a fisherman (“When it’s high-tide, I farm; when it’s low-tide, I fish”).
“Rapu-Rapu island was once so beautiful. It was like paradise. Our lives there were simple — we lived off nature, and we took care not to damage it because we knew it was the source of our livelihood and means of survival. When the mining companies came, everything changed. Now, 97 percent of Rapu-Rapu island is virtually under the control of these environmental destroyers, and what was once paradise is a wasteland,” he said.
Now Rapu-Rapu island island is virtually under control of RRPP, which took over from Lafayette in April 2008. The RRPP is now owned by LG International Corporation & Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) of South Korea and MSC Malaysia Smelting Corp. (MSC) of Malaysia. RRPP is the largest private enterprise in Albay, with investments of over US$100 million. Together with its contractors, the mine employs over 1,400 persons.
The shoreline of Tinopan, Rapu-Rapu, Albay. Two fishermen are busy preparing to sail the following morning, hoping to catch malasugi or blue marlin, a type of tuna that Rapu-Rapu is known for.(Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
“There is no truth to the claims of mining companies that they bring development and progress to the lives of the residents or to the local economy. They call a poisoned sea ‘progress’? They call beaches drying up and mountains levelled ‘progress’? And how could they say that they are helping residents when so many of us are jobless or underemployed? Fishermen have lost their means of livelihood because there’s no more fish to catch!” Casitas said.
According to data from Ibon Foundation, an estimated 14,000 fishermen in Rapu-Rapu and their dependents have already lost their livelihood, from 60 to 93 percent. Previously, fishermen made a good living catching Malasugi or Blue Marlin in Albay Gulf. Because of the marine pollution, degradation of the local marine habitat and the blast explosions in Rapu-Rapu island, however, the Malasugi and other tuna species are believed to have moved away from the area.
Many of the communities have also noticed the decreasing population and loss of shell fish and smaller fish species.
Casitas said that one time representatives from the RRPP and LG-Kore sought a dialogue with him, saying that it genuinely wanted to help the residents.
“I told them , ‘You really want to help us? Then leave Rapu-Rapu and never come back. Just close shop,'” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how much is mined or how much the profits are made from mining: the point is that the people do not benefit any from mining. What’s worse is the environment it destroyed. Before the mining companies came, we had to contend with typhoons. It was difficult, but we always managed to bounce back and recover what we lost. Now with the added devastation caused by mining operations, it’s impossible to recover fully. The best that we can do is live from one day to the next,” he said.
From October 8 to 9, Casitas shared the story of struggle against the mining operations in Rapu-Rapu as a delegate of the 1st National Peasants Conference on Land, Mining and Militarization organized by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in cooperation with Anakpawis party list, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) held inside the UP Diliman Campus in Quezon City.
He and a hundred other members of KMP’s allied peasant, indigenous people’s and environmental groups from all over the country discussed developments in the campaign against the Aquino administration’s pro-mining stance and the continued destruction of millions of agricultural, marine, mountain and forest lands.
The Bicol Region, it was revealed, is one of the hardest hit by mining. Groups like Umalpas-Ka Bicol, the ALMMA or Alyansa Laban sa Mina sa Matnog; the church-based alliance Geo Watch; Alyansa Laban sa Abuso sa Bulkang Bulusan (ALBABB) and the AlisLapnoc or Alyansa Laban sa PNOC (Philippine National Oil Company) are only a few of the organizations actively calling for the removal of mining companies in the region.
A region rich with mineral resources
The Bicol region has a total land area of 1,763,252 hectares, with 69.3 percent declared by government agencies as “alienable and disposable.” Some 30.7 percent of it is comprised of public forest areas; and 756,516 hectares classified as agricultural areas. As of August 1, 2007 figures, the total population stood at 5,109,798 with 956,000 working in agriculture. The region is mostly mountainous, but has wide stretches of plain from Camarines Sur to Albay which is called the Bicol River Basin. It is surrounded by Lamon Bay in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the east, and the Sibuyan Sea and Ragay Gulf in the west.
In the 1990s, the region had the biggest reserves of limestone, and the third biggest reserves of shale. Its provinces are also known for their reserves of precious metals. Albay has gold, copper, coal, lime, clay, gypsum, perlite, and coral rocks. Camarines Norte has gold, silver, iron ore, lead, zinc, limestone, sand, clay and marble. Masbate has gold, manganese, limestone, silver, iron, chromite, lead, zinc and coal. Camarines Sur is rich with chromite, nickel, copper, iron, gypsum and pumice. Gold, silver, coal, manganese, marble, kaolin, phosphate rocks can be mined in Catanduanes; while Sorsogon has sulphur, coal, limestone, iron ore, and manganese.
Based on 2012 first semester data from the Mines and Geoscience Bureau of Region 5 (MGB5) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 5 (DENR5), some P9.41 billion ($224 million) is generated from the mining of metallic minerals (copper, gold, silver at zinc). There was a 9.20 percent of increase or P793 million ($18.88 million) compared to the P8.62 billion ($205 million) in 2011. A substantial 86 percent came from the mining of gold resources.
Primary government data declares that the mining and energy industries had helped to significantly strengthen the Bicol economy. Albay Gov. Salceda said that in recent years, there has been a 8.2 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product of the region. Large-scale mining companies were hailed for giving P1.010 billion ($24 million) in taxes in 2009.
Millions of hectares for mining
In Bicol, a shocking 74.62 percent of the total 1,315, 718 hectares of the region’s land territory or 1,763,252 hectares of it have been taken over by mining companies. A large 983,309 hectares are under approval for FTAAs or financial and technical assistance agreements; while 332,469 hectares are being targeted for MPSAs or mineral production and sharing agreements.
According to January 25, 2012 data from the MGB5/DENR5, there are already 29 approved MPSAs covering 26,877.189 hectares. New existing mining lease contracts now number 14, which are equivalent to 3,979.94 hectares. There are also 12 newly approved exploration permits covering 81,959.864 hectares, adding to the previous seven that covered 37,568.04 hectares.
Among the government’s 24 top priority mining projects under the Mining Revitalization Program and the National Mineral Policy (NMP), five are in Bicol. These projects are run by LG Collins and Kores (Korean/Malaysian) — the former Lafayette Philippines, Inc. (Australia); Filminera Resources Corporation/PGMC (Australian) &Thistle Mining Corp. (Canada) — the former Atlas Consolidated which also became Base Metal (Canada); El Dore Mining Corp. (Australian); Kumakata Mining Co.Inc./Phelps Dodge Explo.Corp. (Philippines/ USA); and Hixbar Copper-Gold (Korean-Malaysian).
LG Collins and Kores run the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project covering 4,538.7955 hectares and mines copper, gold and zinc. Filminera has the Masbate Gold Project that has a scope of 6,361.4067 hectares; El Dore Mining Corp is in charge of the Nalesbitan Gold Project covering 497.75 hectares; Kumakata Mining the Del Gallego Gold Project with 2,282.6123 hectares; and Hixbar runs the Hixbar Copper-Gold Project.
Other TNCS that operate in the region with MPSA are (in Camarines Sur) UP-Mines Incorporated (7,938has);Bicol Chromite & Manganese Corp. (2,243.1029 + 2,741.0582has); (in Camarines Norte) Indophil Resources Phil. Inc. /Jericho Mining Corp. (995.3844 has); San Christo Mineral Exploration Corp. (1,878.1671has);Gou Long Mining Corp. (595.6522has); Yinlu Bikol Mining Corp. (663.0746has); (in Albay) Ibalong Resources Development Corp. (1,061.9087has.) and (in Masbate) Vicar Mining Corp. (783.7837has.)
Golden River Mining Corp./VTN-Agno River Gold Mining Corp. (555.48has., gold, copper, silver, etc. – Camarines Norte is a mining lease contract holder; while there are at least 14 mining corporations that have approved exploration permits.
In Camarines Sur there are Tambuli Mining Co. Inc. (5,397.3800has); and Magnetite Offshore Mining /Bogo Mining Resources Corp. (6,089.2532 has.).
In Masbate are Masbate 10 Philippines Inc. (15,007.4345has.); Masbate13 Philippines Inc. (16,129.1308has.); Alfonso Mineral Resources (6,444.4526has.), Magellan Consolidated Mines & Dev’t. Corp. (2,799.9862has.); Masbate 2145 Phils. (15,909.3279has.); and Geograce Mining Corp. (4,675has).
Operating in Camarines Norte is the Bulawan Mineral Resources Corp. (164.95.90 + 4,974.8720has.)
In Albay there’s Alcorn Gold Resources Corp. (5,998.3200 has.)
In Sorsogon there’s Tomas G. Ranola (1,620.0043 has.) and Global Summit Mines Dev’t. Corp. (1,000 has.).
Catanduanes has Monte Oro Resource Energy Inc. (15 has.) while operating in Palanog, Camalig Albay is the Goodfound Cement Corporation.
The biggest project in Bicol remains the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project, which began in 2003 but, exploration activities began as early as the late 1990s. As previously mentioned, the island has 13 barangays, and 12 of them are coastal. Currently, three barangays are severely affected by the mining activities, Pagcolbon, Malobago and Binosawan; but the effects of the mining are already felt in the other barangays Poblacion, Carogcog, Sta. Barbara, Linao, Tinupan, Viga, Buenavista, Morocborocan at Mananao.
According to Umalpas-Ka Bicol, the project has marked 93.6 percent of Rapu-Rapu island for mining. While the 93.6 percent will not all employ open-pit mining operations, the effect on the entire island is sweeping because of the mining’s firm’s control over the water supply. The contamination of acid and heavy metals has caused the destruction of plant and animal species in the island. There have already been scientific researches alleging that the entire island will not be able recover for decades, and the water areas will dry up and turn into virtual deserts.