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From Paradise to Wasteland - CT

Ever since I was a young boy I have always considered our beloved Catanduanes as a paradise island. Wherever I go, I keep in mind a vivid image of our province as an idyllic place where one would be so happy to spend the rest of his life eating fresh fish and enjoying the green sceneries. Thus, when word went around that a mining permit was awarded to a certain Policarpio Torres who is allegedly connected to the Monte Oro Resources and Energy, Inc. (MOREI), a large coal-mining company, I suddenly got bothered.

I was born in 1968, a year before the Marcopper Mining Corporation started its explorations in Marinduque, another island within the Philippine territory with rich natural resources, very much like our own pastoral haven. In 1996, Marinduque made global news when Marcopper’s concrete dumping pit of toxic waste was fractured and caused significant leaks into the Makulapnit-Boac river system. Almost 1.6 million cubic meters of poisonous tailings were released into the 27 kilometer river and coastal areas. The impact of the accident was terrible that it left the Boac river practically dead. People whose lives depended on its water resources were displaced.

Worse, the rush of tailings caused the river water to inundate the lower parts of the island, clogged irrigation channels to the rice fields, and seriously damaged crop plantations and vegetable gardens. The toxic leaks further resulted in flash floods which isolated 4,400 people in five villages. Water transport was rendered impossible, thus, helicopters had to be used to fly in food, water and medical supplies. Residents fled to higher grounds especially those from Barangay Hinapula which was buried in six feet of muddy flood water. Drinking water sources got contaminated while fish, pigs and shrimps got poisoned. Tests of water samples revealed that the contamination reached 1,300% above the human tolerable level. Residents began to complain of skin irritation and respiratory problems. At least 59 children had to be brought to Manila for detoxification while thousands were suspected by the Department of Health (DOH) to be harbouring toxic substances inside their bodies. A United Nations Assessment Mission declared the Marcopper incident as a major environmental disaster. On October 4, 2005, the provincial government of Marinduque sued Marcopper and its Canada-based parent company for US$ 100 million in damages.

The disaster in Marcopper opened the eyes of many Filipinos who now refuse to allow mining in critical parts of the country. When Rio Tinto, the world’s biggest mining company based in United Kingdom, tried to make explorations in Mindanao, our Muslim brothers and sisters raised noisy uproar. The same level of response was given by the Cordillera People’s Alliance when US-company Newmont tried to mine over one third of their ancestral mountains.

The most resounding rejection of dangerous mining in the country was registered by the B’laan indigenous people when Australian company Western Mining Corporation (WMC) secured a 99,400 hectare concession in Mindanao. Armed struggle escalated as military power was resorted to by the WMC to preserve its mining interest. Human rights violations became rampant, forcing the B’laan to seek international help. In 1997, the B’laan also filed a class action suit in the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the 1995 Mining Act which they found to be very liberal in favor of transnational corporations (TNCs) which under the said law were allowed virtual ownership and control of Philippine lands. The B’laans decried the law for being very much against the interest of the Filipinos as it deprived and displaced the citizens from their source of livelihood.

In 1998, the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBCP) called for the repeal of the Mining Act as well as the recall of mining permits to TNCs. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act based on a previous decision, and merely cited Section 76 of the law which provides for just compensation. Upon learning the High Court’s verdict, some disgusted residents in Northern Luzon burned the building of the Australasians-Philippines Mining Inc. (APMI) which has been awarded mining concessions in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino.

The adverse court decision now leaves the struggle against dangerous mining explorations to our people. This means that it is up to us, the real party of interest, to resist the presence of mining companies and to avoid their disastrous impact in our communities that will eventually deprive our succeeding generations of their future. The provincial government will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of allowing mining explorations in our island. On one hand, it will generate around P9 million in taxes for the local government and around P10 million worth of jobs for the residents. On the other hand, the long-term impact of soil erosion, flash floods, contamination, and other social, environmental, and health costs will have to be considered as well. Allowing mining to flourish in Catanduanes is like giving an ounce of poison every day to every resident. Who needs mining money when it kills? Certainly, we do not want another Marcopper disaster to happen. We do not want to turn our paradise island into a toxic wasteland.

By Dr. Patrick T. Azanza
Source: Sixth Sense, Catanduanes Tribune - 31 July 2009

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