Tag Archives: Phillipines

Opposition will ‘not let up’ to planned seabed mining in Philippines

Opposition to seabed mining in the archipelagic Philippine province of Romblon … led by local anti-groups such as REFAM … Image: Rachel Llorca/UST

Rachel E. Llorca | Asia Pacific Report | June 7, 2017  

Fishermen from the archipelagic province of Romblon in the Philippines are opposed to planned’ experimental’ sea mining ventures in the area amid fears it will destroy their livelihoods.

One of these fishermen is 55-year-old Agosto Rivera. Fishing is his livelihood, with the fish nets and blue sea of Odiongan Bay –- part of Tablas Island –- his constant companion for 43 years.

With a PHP300 (NZD$8) daily bounty from fishing, and sometimes a PHP5000 (NZD$140) commission when doing deep sea fishing, the sea has been the lifeblood of Rivera’s wife and 10 children.

But Rivera’s livelihood, and that of the estimated 1390 fisher folk in Odiongan Bay, is said to be in danger. Rivera’s fears are echoed by local government leaders and cause-oriented citizens (known locally as Romblomanons) who are wary of prospective deep sea mining operations that the firm Asian Palladium Mineral Resources, Inc. wants to conduct in Romblon’s Tablas Strait.

The lure is palladium, a rare, malleable and ductile metal that can be used as petroleum or as a material for specialized alloys or pieces of jewelry. “Very few countries have deposits of palladium,” the company’s geologist, Louie Santos, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in June 2016.

To get to Tablas Strait’s palladium, however, Asian Palladium must conduct deep sea mining across a 10.6ha area. This comes after Asian Palladium secured a 25-year Financial and/or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTTA) from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

But as Asian Palladium is waiting for the Mines and Geosciences Bureau’s approval to its FTTA application, Romblomanons continue to reject the company’s plans for deep sea mining in the area, which began more than a year ago.

No mining allowed

Romblomanons’ opposition came towards the end of the term of former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in May 2016 when Asian Palladium applied for the FTTA. Upon the assumption of Rodrigo Duterte as president on June 30, 2016, then environment secretary Regina Paz Lopez promised the local government of Odiongan that no mining, including that of Asian Palladium, “will be allowed.”

Lopez ordered the closure and suspension of identified mining companies across the country after assessment teams reportedly found hazards in these firms mining operations. But the Philippine legislature’s Commission on Appointments bypassed Lopez’s appointment thrice, and she was replaced by former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu.

It is such moves which have invigorated local anti-mining groups, such as the Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining (REFAM), as closed or suspended companies remain poised for a reversal of Lopez’s orders.

“We will not let up in our advocacy,” says REFAM’s Sherryll Fetalvero.

Fetalvero, who is also a professor with Romblon State University, says the group has been “guarding” the province from mining projects.

“The strength of Romblon is the vigilance of the people.”

Some 127,853 signatures –- three-fourths of the province’s voting population –- have been collected from residents of Romblon province during anti-mining signature campaigns in the past. REFAM has also pushed for 125 anti-mining resolutions by local government officials, in the face of no province-wide environment act.

Mining opposition in Romblon is strong … 127,853 signatures. Image: Rachel Llorca/UST

Long-standing opposition

Current protest in Romblon is not the first time the province has opposed mining operations.

Eight years ago, Altai Philippines Mining Corporation was given a cease-and-desist order by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau for its planned metallic mining operations in Romblon’s Sibuyan Island, said to be rich in gold. This came after rising levels of atmospheric mercury were discovered by residents on the island.

In 2011, residents also protested against Ivanhoe Philippines, Inc., which applied for government permission to explore minerals in Tablas Island. Residents’ protest against Ivanhoe spanned nine months from January to September and was regarded as the shortest anti-mining campaign in the Philippines by civil society groups. Ivanhoe subsequently withdrew its exploration permit application on September 30, 2011.

Long-standing opposition in Romblon is not the first anti-mining advocates have asserted doubts on the safety of deep sea mining.

Deep sea mining in Papua New Guinea from 2011 to 2014 by Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals was halted following large protest by Papuans led by advocacy groups Bismarck Ramu and the Ocean Foundation’s deep sea mining campaign. The company subsequently removed its ships as its former seabed mining project – Solwara 1 – was referred to as an “experiment” by critics.

As to the mining firms trying to seek permission and operate in Romblon, however, Fetalvero says REFAM has a “tried-and-tested formula” to beat the firms as anti-mining messages continue to be promoted across the province.

“We stop mining companies by making sure they will not be able to get a certificate of publication from the towns of Romblon. That way, we will be able to question the technicalities of an approval by the DENR.”


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Philippines bans new open-pit metal mines

Regina Lopez, the Philippine secretary of the environment, addresses residents of Marinduque about steps she is taking to tame unlawful mining practices. The island east of Manila experienced one of the world’s worst mine tailing disasters in 1996. Photo by Keith Schneider.

Citing a need to protect communities and biodiversity, Philippine environment minister Regina Lopez announced the decision on Thursday.

  • The Philippines has banned new open-pit gold, copper and silver mines, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Regina Lopez announced April 27.
  • Lopez cited the need to protect biodiversity, evidence of injuries to communities and water supplies, and violations of environmental law by the mining industry.
  • Since taking office in July, Lopez has lauched an aggressive campaign to force the mining industry to improve its practices.
  • The ban could be one of Lopez’s last acts in office; on May 3, she faces review from a legislative committee that includes people linked to the mining industry.

Keith Schneider | Mongabay | 28 April 2017

Prompted by powerful evidence of massive injury to communities and water supplies, and findings of rampant violations of environmental law, the Philippines has banned new open-pit gold, copper, nickel, and silver mines.

The order to block any more open-pit metal mines in the Philippines comes a month after El Salvador became the world’s first country to ban all metal mining.

“We have suffered long enough,” said Regina Lopez, the Philippine secretary of the environment, who announced the ban during a news conference here on April 27. “What are we doing? This goes against everything, everything that God wants. People are suffering so much. The Earth is suffering. It’s wrong. And it will stop.”

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, the industry’s influential trade group, did not respond to a request for an interview for this article. But Ronald S. Recidoro, the chamber’s vice president for legal and policy, told the Business Mirror newspaper that the ban was “absurd” and “biased” against the mining industry. “It did not undergo any study,” he said.

The order to prevent new open-pit mines does not affect quarries and the country’s sole open-pit coal mine. It was issued in the tenth month of an aggressive campaign by Lopez to force the Philippines mining industry to improve its practices and adhere to environmental law. On her first day in office last July, Lopez launched teams of compliance auditors to investigate how well the country’s 40 big mines were following regulations to protect water quality and ensure the safety of communities and the land.

In February, with the audit findings in hand, Lopez cancelled or suspended the mining licenses of 26 mines. She sent two more companies “show cause” letters that asked them justify why their operations should be allowed to continue. All but a handful of the companies appealed for relief directly to President Rodrigo Duterte. While the appeals are being considered, the mines continue to operate.

Lopez also cancelled agreements between the government and mining companies for 75 mines that were proposed to be built in some of the country’s most beautiful watersheds. Lopez’s orders appear to halt some $8 billion to $10 billlon in mine proposals, including the $ 5.9 billion Tampakan open-pit copper and gold mine in Mindanao.

Lopez made it clear from her first days in office that she opposed the Tampakan project. It would force hundreds of people off their land, she said, damage water and ruin a magnificent tropical watershed. “Water is life,” Lopez said on Thursday. “Is it right to let this go on? Is any amount of money worth it? Is this right? We need love. Love is courage. The courage to stand up for what is true.”

The order to outlaw new open-pit mines could very well be Lopez’s last as environment secretary. Next week a 25-member legislative committee that reviews cabinet appointments is scheduled to vote on approving or dismissing Lopez from her post. The committee includes a number of members that are heavily supported by mining companies. The family of the committee’s vice-chairman owns a big metal mine.

Abandoned equipment and toxic mine sludge occupy the abandoned Marcopper mine on Marinduque, an island east of Manilla. A breach in the mine’s tailing pond poured millions of tons of toxic mine wastes into the Boac River. Photo by Keith Schneider.

The struggle over metal mining in the Philippines has been especially fierce since 1995, when the country approved a mining statute that opened the country’s extensive gold, copper, and nickel reserves, among the world’s largest, to international development companies. The intent was to encourage foreign investment and new jobs.

The next year, though, Filipinos discovered just how environmentally risky an anticipated boom in open-pit mineral mining could be. On March 24, 1996 a tailings pond breached at the Marcopper open-pit copper mine on Marinduque, an island southeast of Manila. Millions of tons of toxic mine sludge roared down the Boac River, flooding communities, wrecking the river and contaminating the sea 27 kilometers (16.7 miles) away. The Canadian company closed the mine. It is now one of the 14 abandoned open-pit mines in the Philippines that are surrounded by acres of bare and eroded hillsides and big pools of toxic acidic water contaminated with high concentrations of heavy metals.

In August 2012, an even bigger tailings disaster followed torrential rains at the Philex copper and gold mine in Benguet, about 315 kilometers north of Manila. Some 20 million tons of mine tailings poured from the breached tailings pond and into nearby streams.

Lopez says her mining orders are meant to prevent any more damage from big new mines.

“We have the most unique biodiversity on the planet,” she said in an interview. “We are the center of the center of marine biodiversity of the entire planet in the Verde Passage. It’s a passage through the islands. It’s beautiful and so clean. They want to put up a gold mine there. So I cancelled it. Hello? It’s cancelled.”

Keith Schneider is an international correspondent specializing in global trends related to water, energy, and food. Based in northern Michigan, he has reported from six continents. Read his blog at ModeShift.org and reach him on Twitter @modeshift

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Are indigenous Filipinos being murdered for anti-mine activism?

How paramilitaries rule by fear in Mindanao

A camp in Davao for indigenous people displaced by violence in Mindanao, Philippines, in January 2016

A camp in Davao for indigenous people displaced by violence in Mindanao, Philippines, in January 2016

Lennart Hofman | IRIN | 26 February 2016

Kailo Bontulan sat in front of a cluster of thatched bamboo huts next to a humble Protestant church in Davao, a city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. About 700 members of his indigenous community fled there almost a year ago following deadly attacks by paramilitary groups.

“In the camp I feel safe. The army can’t abduct me that easy, like back home where I can disappear without a trace,” said the community leader. “Here we are together and strong, and able to tell the world what is done to us by the army.”

Bontulan spoke too soon. Weeks later, on 24 February, unidentified men set the makeshift camp on fire, burning two buildings to the ground and injuring five people.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines said in a statement that Lumads, a collective term for the numerous indigenous peoples of Mindanao, continued to be harassed even after fleeing their villages. In December, the displaced community camping around the church received threats that their temporary dwellings would be burned down.

“The threats have been executed, and, once again, the Lumads have been harmed,” the church said.

The Lumads find themselves caught in the middle of a violent struggle between an array of armed groups. The Philippine Army is battling the New People’s Army, which has waged a Maoist guerrilla struggle since 1969. The government army has allegedly drawn on indigenous communities to form paramilitary groups, which are accused of some of the worst abuses.

Paramilitary links

After a 1 September attack allegedly committed by the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group that killed three indigenous leaders in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur, the province’s outspoken governor Johnny Pimentel said in a statement:

“The military created a monster.”

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, has expressed concern about links between the army and paramilitaries. The Philippine human rights group Karapatan says it has documented the relationship between the military and the Alamara, another Mindanao paramilitary group, going back to 2002.

Military officials routinely deny such allegations.

But the circumstantial evidence is so strong that former justice secretary Leila de Lima announced last September an investigation into violence against Lumads and promised to probe the role of “paramilitary groups”, which are by definition connected to the army.

Since that statement, however, the ministry has released no further information about the investigation,  and de Lima was replaced in January. Officials at the Justice Ministry did not respond to phone calls or emails.

Mining violence

There is an economic element to the plight of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples. The area is rich in minerals and the province of Surigao del Sur has been designated by the government as the “mining capital of the Philippines”, Human Rights Watch has noted.

A bulldozer clears a road through indigenous ancestral land in the Philippines province of Compostela Valley in January 2016. Andreas Stahl/IRIN

A bulldozer clears a road through indigenous ancestral land in the Philippines province of Compostela Valley in January 2016. Andreas Stahl/IRIN

After Wednesday’s arson attack, the church said:

“The Lumads live in mineral rich areas coveted by foreign mining companies. There is massive militarisation in these areas to protect foreign mining interests.”

It is a common enough allegation, but it’s hard to prove a direct connection between the individual acts of violence and mining interests.

However, anti-mining activists like Bontulan often receive death threats from members of the military.

“They told a family member they would skin me alive if they ever saw me again in the village,” he told IRIN.

Bontulan takes the warning seriously. Targeted killings are common in Mindanao, and although the assailants are rarely prosecuted, the victims are disproportionately Lumads and often involved in anti-mining activities.

On 9 February, two Lumads were killed and others wounded in Compostela Valley Province, where the Compostela Farmers  Association has opposed mining. The human rights group Karapatan said one of the victims killed by an unknown assailant was the sister of a CFA activist, while the second person was killed when the army bombarded the village of Sitio Diat.

Local media quoted an army spokesman saying the bombardment occurred during a battle with the NPA, but Karapatan denied that NPA elements were in the area at the time and accused the army of indiscriminately bombing the village. IRIN requested comment from the army on this incident and its alleged support for paramilitaries, but a spokesman did not reply before publication.

Karapatan also documented the extrajudicial killings of four people in Compostela Valley and Davao del Sur provinces in January.

Despite the continuous attacks, indigenous leaders say they will not be driven from their lands.

Indigenous anti-mining activist Sabello "Tatay Bello" Tindasan at his home in Compostela Valley Province

Indigenous anti-mining activist Sabello “Tatay Bello” Tindasan at his home in Compostela Valley Province

Sabello “Tatay Bello” Tindasan, a CFA member, fled to Davao after a soldier shot at his son-in-law in November but missed. That followed a hail of bullets on his home from a nearby army base after he participated in a roadblock last June to prevent a mining company from bringing heavy equipment into the area.

In January, Tindasan decided to return home despite the risks. Standing by his house, which is still pockmarked by gunfire, he told IRIN:

“This is my ancestral land. It belonged to my father and it will belong to my son. I have no other choice than to stay and defend it.”

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New Caledonia leaders call for international nickel cartel

Radio New Zealand

New Caledonian political leaders say they would like to create a nickel cartel with Indonesia and the Philippines similar to the oil producing countries’ OPEC.

New Caledonia’s vice-president, Gilbert Tyuienon, and its Congress president, Roch Wamytan, discussed the issue with Indonesian leaders in Jakarta amid concern over the drop in the nickel price.

The two countries reportedly hold about 80 percent of the world’s ore supply, with Indonesia supplying Chinese smelters whose growing output has lowered the nickel price way below the production costs in New Caledonia.

The New Caledonian leaders say there was interest in Jakarta in suggestions to regulate the nickel market along the lines of the rubber and tinn market.

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Philippines detains Chinese for illegal mining

Radio Australia

The Philippines has detained 18 Chinese men on suspicion of illegal black sand mining.

The Philippines’ justice department raided two mine sites run by Chinese firm Hua Xia Mining and Trading Corp. in the country’s northern coastal town of Aparri, detaining 18 of its employees.

The company had a permit to dredge magnetite, also known as black sand, from a nearby river but not from the coast.

Under Philippine law, it is illegal to extract any minerals within 200 metres (656 feet) of a beach.

“Nine Chinese nationals were burrowing and processing magnetite sand within the prohibited zone,” Alex Lactao, the Philippines’ justice department spokesman, said.

“The other nine were arrested at a nearby beach where they were building a magnetite processing plant.”

The detained Chinese men lacked permits required to work in the Philippines and could face further criminal charges.

Local authorities in the Philippines say there has been a rise in the illegal extraction of magnetite, an iron ore in huge demand by China’s steel mills. 80 Chinese miners were arrested from one chromite mine in in 2010 and another eight at a similar chromite operation last year.

Environmental groups say illegal magnetite mining has been stripping Philippine coasts through erosion.

They blame small-scale mining firms, most of them allegedly Chinese and often operating in collusion with local government officials.

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Filipino rebels threaten new attacks on mine firms

Philippine communist guerrillas warned three mining companies Wednesday that they may be attacked again if they continue to use methods the rebels say harm the environment.

New People’s Army regional spokesman Jorge Madlos said the nickel mining companies in remote Claver town in southern Surigao del Norte province have refused to discuss the guerrillas’ concerns about the environment and the treatment of mine workers. Mining officials have denied the rebel allegations.

Military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said attacks by more than 200 guerrillas on the sprawling mining compounds last October were part of extortion attempts. Government forces have bolstered security at the mines, he said.

The Maoist guerrillas disarmed guards, briefly held company staff, and burned company offices and heavy equipment during the Oct. 3 attacks, one of the largest rebel assaults in recent years. One of the companies was forced to temporarily shut down its operations.

Madlos acknowledged the rebels wanted what he called “revolutionary taxes” from the mining companies but said the attacks were primarily sparked by their concern over mining methods that have allegedly caused sea and land pollution in Claver, about 430 miles (700 kilometers) southeast of Manila.

The New People’s Army, which is listed by Washington as a terrorist group, has staged smaller attacks on mining companies and banana plantations in the south in the past, accusing them of exploiting the country’s resources and workers. The rebels are estimated to number slightly more than 4,000.

Peace talks with the guerrillas stalled last year after the government refused a rebel demand for the release of several of their captured comrades.

The Communist Party of the Philippines urged its armed wing, which celebrates its 43rd anniversary on Thursday, to intensify attacks on government forces, including small assaults that employ homemade bombs, land mines and booby-traps, “to demoralize and disintegrate the enemy.”

The Marxist insurgency, one of Asia’s longest-running, has been weakened considerably by battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism but remains the country’s leading security threat, the military says.


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