VIRAC, CATANDUANES—The Catholic Church and other groups are objecting to a plan by a firm linked to business tycoon Enrique Razon Jr. to extract coal worth P6.2 billion in the province, saying mining would destroy its forest cover and biodiversity, cause flooding, and pollute its waterways.
The groups also claim that the Department of Energy awarded 7,000 hectares of land in the province to Monte Oro Resources Energy Inc. in 2005 for coal exploration without public consultation.
The large swathe of land assigned to Monte Oro in the towns of San Andres, Caramoran and Panganiban is equivalent to the land area of 132 Luneta Parks or three times bigger than Makati City.
Razon has an interest in Monte Oro Grid Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Monte Oro Resources Energy, a company formed in 2005 to invest in mining, oil and gas, and infrastructure in the Philippines.
Monte Oro Grid is a leading member of the consortium that won the bidding for the power grids of National Transmission Corp. in 2007 with an offer of $3.95 billion.
Additional 8,000 hectares
The Church and other groups are also opposing the plan of the energy department to award an additional 8,000 hectares in three towns in the province to a private firm for the mining of some P9.4 billion worth of coal deposits.
The new area will cover the jurisdictions of 14 barangays (village) in the towns of Caramoran, Panganiban and Viga.
The areas identified by the energy department for coal mining encroach on the remaining 60,000 hectares of forest land of Catanduanes, according to opponents of coal mining.
A report by provincial consultant Manuel V. Mapa said disturbance of the ground surface and forested areas during mining operations would increase soil erosion and cause flooding in the towns of Viga, Panganiban, Bagamanoc, San Miguel, Bato, Manambrag in San Andres, and Hitoma and Milaviga in Caramoran.
Mine tailings would also endanger waterways and the sea.
Loss of carbon sink
Mapa said coal mining would leave the forests open to massive exploitation from kaingeros (swidden farmers), “farm-and-run” settlers and illegal loggers, which would result in the loss of forest cover capable of absorbing 8.7 million tons of carbon dioxide.
“Mining in the watershed area of Hitoma river will affect Suweco operations and deprive power consumers an estimated P20 million per year in savings,” Mapa said. Sunwest Water and Electricity Co. operates mini-hydro power plants.
Absence of consultation
In a statement of concern read in all churches on the island on March 1, Bishop Manolo A. de los Santos of the Diocese of Virac appealed to local and national leaders to stop all mining operations in the province in the absence of public consultation with affected sectors.
Catandunganons have the right to know the disastrous effects mining would bring to the island and its people, De los Santos said.
“We don’t want our island and our people to suffer from such tragedies brought about by irresponsible mining activity,” he said.
The bishop asked the faithful to support and stand by the diocese in the struggle against large-scale mining and the blatant exploitation of the island’s rich natural resources.
30 new coal areas
His statement came a week after the Department of Energy closed the 2009 bidding for 30 new coal areas in the country, including Area 10 in Catanduanes covering 8,000 hectares.
In Panganiban town, a prospective miner showed up at the municipal council two months ago with a coal mining contract duly approved by the Department of Energy.
Policarpio M. Torres presented the documents to the municipal council on June 15 and sought its endorsement for his mining operation in the town, according to Panganiban Councilor Remelito Cabrera.
He quoted Torres, who is from Tambongon, Viga, as saying that he (Torres) would not insist on pursuing the operation if the municipal council would not endorse it.
Cabrera said the energy department permit that gave Torres the go-signal to proceed with coal extraction would go against the sentiments of the municipal council.
The council has passed a resolution objecting to the inclusion of 2,000 hectares of the town’s territory in the coal operating contract of Monte Oro.
Angelo Reyes signed permit
Documents showed that Energy Secretary Angelo T. Reyes signed Small-Scale Coal Mining Permit No. 2008-018 issued to Torres on Oct. 30, 2008 covering a parcel of coal-bearing land in Barangay San Miguel, Panganiban.
Under the permit valid for five years, Torres can extract 7,333 metric tons a year at Campo Ermitaño under the supervision of Monte Oro when its coal operating contract (COC) is converted into development and production COC.
All coal produced by Torres will be sold to Monte Oro, according to the permit.
While the operations are not yet under Monte Oro, Torres would have to hire a full-time mining engineer to oversee mining operations.
Torres is also mandated to pay the national government 3 percent of the gross sales of the coal produced in the area based on the sales invoice.
A coal production of 1.5 million metric tons in five years would earn Monte Oro P6.2 billion in gross revenues. Local governments are expected to get P9 million in taxes and workers, P10 million.
No response from Reyes
In a resolution dated Nov. 17, 2008, the council said there were no records showing that the energy department and other agencies had complied with the provisions of the Local Government Code requiring prior consultation with local government units, nongovernment organizations and other sectors to be affected by the proposed coal mining.
Councilor Cabrera said the Department of Energy, to which a copy of the resolution was personally delivered by Mayor Gregorio Angeles, did not respond.
A group calling itself Katandungan Kontra Mina is seeking to hold an information campaign to warn the people of the loss of Catanduanes’ precious forests and watersheds should coal mining proceed.
At a meeting at the Diocese of Virac Social Action Foundation Inc. on July 9, the group agreed to conduct the information drive in villages, town plazas and schools.
“Whether we like it or not, we need the help of all the people of Catanduanes in stopping any mining activity or in recalling the permits issued to a small-scale mining permittee,” Fr. Laudemer Jose Gapaz told the group.
Opponents claim that the mining activity would benefit only Monte Oro but damage from landslides, flooding and reduced water flow to rivers would cost more than whatever local government units would get from mining.
Water flow in the 11 town’s major rivers would be reduced by 25-35 percent and water would be polluted, they said.
“We are afraid that Torres is just being used by Monte Oro to operate large-scale mining in the province,” Gapaz said, noting that the permit was issued in the absence of public consultations and an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).
In Quezon City, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said the Monte Oro project in Catanduanes had not been issued an ECC.
Atienza said all coal mining projects of more than 20 hectares should get an ECC from the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
An ECC for a mining project covers permits like an authority to transfer trees, water rights and endorsement from local government units, according to Director Julian Amador of the Environmental Management Bureau.
The Federation of Irrigators Association of Catanduanes, and the United Katandunganons Against Graft & Corruption (Ukag) also opposed any kind of mining in the province.
“We cannot allow the approval of a mining operation done in haste, especially what is at stake is the province’s remaining biodiversity,” Ukag head Eddie Rodulfo said.
Clemente Bautista of the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment said the approval of the project violated the Arroyo administration’s commitment to fight climate change.
“Coal, even before being burned, is dirty and carbon intensive. It changes land use, dislocates communities and destroys our fragile ecosystems,” Bautista said. With reports from Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon and Alcuin Papa
Catanduanes Folk Buck P6.2-B Undertaking
By Fernan Gianan
Inquirer Southern Luzon, Philippine Daily Inquirer
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