Folk Struggle to Regain a
A mining company has
allegedly destroyed a historic and stunningly beautiful island in Eastern
Samar. Now, the residents are fighting back to protect their environment,
themselves and their future, facing a formidable enemy that has been,
according to them, deceiving the residents and pitting them against each
BY MAUREEN JAPZON
CITY – The stunning shorelines of Homonhon island remind you of pictures
in postcards, but the island’s interior are bald mountains -- denuded and
hollowed out by mining.
Homonhon, in Guiuan, Eastern Samar,
about 65 kilometers northwest of Manila, is marked in Philippine history.
On March 16, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition first dropped anchor on
its shores before saying the first mass in Limasawa of southern Leyte.
Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, called it “waters with good signs”
because it was where they first saw signs of gold, one of the objects of
In a Department of Tourism brochure,
Homonhon is described as a beautiful haven, where “white corals can be
found around the island, where much of the land is rugged and vast parts
are covered with forests. The interior part is rough and hilly, covered
with dense tropical vegetation but drained by numerous rivers and creeks.
Mountain ranges and peaks abound in its interiors. Narrow plains hug most
of the most of the coastal areas and in some instances, the banks of its
principal rivers and their tributaries”.
This paradise, however, has been under
threat by a corporate mining operation since 1983.
This was confirmed during a visit by Bulatlat and other
media outlets to the area on September 13-15, 2004. The team was greeted
by glorious beaches, but as the journalists went near the mountains, they
saw telltale signs of fires, streams without water, the loose soil only a
few meters away from the nearly 10 deep pits in every mining site.
There has since been a popular
resistance by the island’s residents, through their organization, Homonhon
Environmental Rescuers Association (Hero), who promised environmental
protection from perils of mining. “We will not allow them to continue
destroying our island. We will continue our resistance and if we need to
establish barricades in order to halt their operations, we will do it,”
declared Ma. Josefina Montes, the secretary of Hero.
“I want Homonhon to be celebrated as a
part of history and tourism, and not as a mine,” said Freddie Gapati,
chairman of Pagbabangnan village.
However, Gapati’s aspiration now seems
unreachable as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,
through Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) regional director Loreto Alburo,
said “the possibility of halting the chromite mining operations of
Heritage Resources and Mining Corp. (HRMC) is remote, since its lease
contract is approved for 25 years.”
HRMC started its chromite-mining
operations way back in 1983; the company was then known as the Alamag
Processing Corp. It uses open-pit mining in extracting chromite; near the
mining site, mounds of excavated soil and deep pits are noticeable. The
approved mining claims of HRMC extend up to 3, 713.6724 hectares but only
100 hectares are presently being utilized.
In an interview with Bulatlat,
engineer Alfredo S. Dolores, its corporate services manager, said “the
people’s perceptions that mining will cause Homonhon to sink is wrong,
since the deposits are only located near the surface. There is nothing but
rocks beyond that point, and we do not touch it anymore. We only dig an
average of 7 to 12 meters in every mountain that has a chromite deposit.”
HRMC boasts of its Homonhon Livelihood
Mining Program as an example of a “success story beyond compare.” Dolores
said the community supports the program because of the benefits it
provides to the island.
The company has since expanded from a
single barangay to all the eight barangays of Homonhon. It also
established associations that guaranteed the continuation of mining
operations within the mining are.
“Under the law, mining operators are
required to allocate one percent of the total mining cost for the Social
Development and Management Program and what HRMC is doing now is way
beyond this requirement,” the MGB’s Alburo said of the firm’s program.
Opposition despite the benefits
“Whatever HRMC gives us, we will
accept it. But our opposition to the continuation of their mining
operations will not change. In the end, these benefits will amount to
nothing if Homonhon is gone,” Gapati, the village chairman, told
Hero’s Montes said the opposition to
HRMC’s mining operations began a long time ago. However, she explained,
the people had not yet been organized. There had been individual
complaints that later compelled the diocese of Borongan to act. Through
its Social Action Center, the local Church conducted an investigation into
these complaints and met with the affected residents. This led to the
creation of Hero in July 2003.
The provincial board also investigated
the complaints against HRMC. Karen Alvarez, a member of the provincial
board, observed that “reddish coloration that was considered silt was
visibly noted on the mouth of Cantilado River, Magellan and Capaopawan
Creeks and at the Culasi Point. Silt was pasted on the stones and rocks.
White sand was also mixed with silt.”
Marcelo Itaas, chief of operations of
the Community Environment and Tourism Office in Guiuan, told Bulatlat
that HRMC’s mining is destructive. “Even though no chemical flows out
of the tailing ponds of the mine, since the soil flows out with the water
into the sea, it results in siltation or the covering up of the weeds,
which eventually leads to their death. The fishes are deprived of their
shelter and source of food,” he said.
Moreover, a forest fire had earlier
destroyed more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the area and subsequently
affected the residents’ water supply.
“The mining operation does extensive
damage to Cagusuan and to the nearby barangays (villages) for a number of
reasons. First, we have lost our water supply. During El Nino, the water
supply ran short for after about seven months, but now, only two months
has passed, and we no longer have water,” said Caberio Vencion, a village
councilor and Hero’s vice-president.
Vencion believed the fire was
deliberate. “I cannot pinpoint the exact perpetrator but this is a result
of the mining operations since our forests were once filled with trees,”
he said. The HRMC is now mining in these former forests.
According to the Rev. Fr. Alejandro
Galo, a parish priest of the nearby Manicani island who did a study on the
forest fire, there are different versions of fire that razed the mountains
of Homonhon in the 1980s and that HRMC had denied the allegation that it
started the fire. The mountains, according to HRMC, burned 10 years before
the firm began operations and that residents who gathered honey were the
ones responsible for the fire. The government never identified the
Divide and rule
Norman Bocar, the Provincial
Environment and Tourism Officer (Penro) of Eastern Samar, revealed that
HRMC uses “divide and rule” tactic against the people of Homonhon. He said
the company provides superficial benefits to the village in order to
obtain their sympathy and, thus, enable the company to continue its
operations despite the opposition of the other residents.
“Aside from environmental destruction,
the other negative effect of mining on our island is the disunity of the
people. Even siblings fight among themselves due to different perceptions
regarding the mining operations,” said Hero’s Montes.
Some residents extol HRMC for sending
their children to school and for giving them galvanized iron sheets to
replace their nipa (grass) roofs. They said their lives have gotten
better and those opposed to the mining are disturbing them.
“All I can say to those opposed to the
mining operations is that we should unite in persuading the government to
provide us with employment opportunities in our area. We do not intend to
fight with them. It is difficult to unite a barangay whose residents fight
among themselves,” Roberto Lagamina, president of the Cagusuan
Wage-Earners Association, told Bulatlat.
Rosario Abueme, a resident against the
mining, said fishing alone can sustain the community. “We are able to
survive even if our husbands rely on fishing alone. The problem with them
is that they are selfish and only think of themselves, they do not think
of the future.”
Montes accused the HRMC of using its
livelihood and support program to quell resistance to the mining
operation. “While is true that HRMC does provide benefits to the residents
such as a school bus for the children, free rides aboard their motorboat,
and providing a generator to the barangay, these are all meant for those
who do not oppose their operations,” he said.
Vencion, the councilor, said he has
not lost hope that the majority of the residents will join Hero’s call to
stop the mining operations. Hero has gotten support from such groups as
the Regional Peasant Alliance in Eastern Visayas (Sagupa), a group that
campaigns against mining.
“We do not oppose mining operations
per se, since it forms the backbone of an industrialized nation. But at
present, it is untimely to conduct such since it does not respond to the
need for the sustainable development of our economy and livelihood of the
people,” said Diana Ragub, campaign officer of Sagupa. “While it is true
that it provides immediate relief, minerals -- unlike a plant that can be
harvested and replanted -- are slowly being used up with only the foreign
capitalists enjoying the benefits, since they have the technology and
capital to process them.”
Ragub explained that the environment
is not the only victim of HRMC’s operations but also the sustainable
livelihood of the people.
She predicts that, because of the
mining operations and the residents’ opposition, the area will be
militarized. “The strong opposition of the people is always met with state
fascism,” Ragub said. She also pointed out that there have been cases
where the residents’ opposition stopped mining operations in several
places in the region.
“I am calling on the members of Hero
to be with us in the steps we will undertake in the future to protect not
only the island of Homonhon but the whole region of Eastern Visayas,”
Ragub said. Bulatlat
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