5000 Surigaonons shouts “NO TO MINING IN SURIGAO DEL SUR”: protest against DENR’s grant of mining companies’ permits within Carac-an Watershed

February 13th, 2016 | by Balaod Mindanaw

Cantilan, Surigao del Sur– Amidst the refusal of DENR to cancel the Mineral Production Sharing Agreements MPSAs of Marc Ventures Development Corporation (MMDC) and Carac-an Development Corporation (CDC), over 5,000 residents of Surigao del Sur attended the symposium yesterday morning (January 21, 2013) at the Municipal Gymnasium of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur to express protest over DENR’s coverage of some 9,695 hectares in the area under MPSA with the two mining corporations. The covered area is within the 43,601-hectare Cantilan-Carascal-Madrid Watershed.


Present in the gathering were church leaders and representatives, LGU officials, youth, farmers, fisher folks, indigenous peoples, students, civic organizations, and environmentalist groups in Surigao del Sur. A number of Surigao del Norte groups and residents also came to show their support over the cause of their fellow Surigaonons.


Vicente Cirilo Iriberri of Baywatch, a local coalition of environmental advocates, presented the rationale of the gathering as a step to stop the current environmental harassment. Mayor Genito Guardo of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur welcomed and expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support of the Cantilanons as well as of the other groups, and committed to continue working for the protection of the watershed. On the other hand, Fr.Petros of the Diocese of Tandag, relayed the message of Bishop Odchimar who from the very start actively expressed support on the advocacy. The Bishop also called for unity among all the Surigaonons especially of Surigao del Sur in order to finally stop the mining operations. He said that victory once achieved would benefit everyone including the future generations.


The symposium was also attended by Gina Lopez of Bantay Kalikasan, who brought with her documentary evidences of the actual status of areas being or has been explored by mining companies all over the country. After seeing evidences of destruction over the affected areas, the entire gymnasium was filled with remorse. Seeing the possibility that Surigao del Sur is not far from heading on the path of destruction because of the continuous mining within the Watershed area, they were all the more convinced that stopping or slowing down the fight against the destruction of the watershed is not an option.


Since DENR’s grant of MPSAs to MMDC and CDC, different groups and sectors of the community, have expressed their protest due to the lack of required consultations from the affected communities, the absence of mandatory free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the Manobo communities, and the absence of the necessary permits and licenses from the local government units. But the mining companies proceeded to mine the Cantilan watersheds.


Presidential Proclamation No. 1747 issued on March 23, 2009 declaring the 43,601-hectare area as Watershed Forest Reserve could have been a powerful tool had it been implemented . Unfortunately, the continuous mining operation despite the proclamation, the establishment of several infrastructures, and after the issuance of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) issued on 10 November 2012 and affirmed on 26 may 2011, which should be effective until an order saying otherwise, as ordered by RTC Branch 41, Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, constantly threatens the watershed and the natural resources in it.


The DENR, through the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), could have stopped the events that transpired had they been looking at the entire situation with eyes fully-opened. Unfortunately, it instead allowed the continuous mining operation by issuing permit to transfer ores despite commitment of then MGB Regional Director Jasanero to implement the TEPO.


The LGU discovery of more than 50 hectares of virgin forests bulldozed within the watersheds, including the sacred burial grounds and sacred communal places of the Manobo indigenous communities inhabiting in the area, is just the beginning. They also found 3,335 hectares of irrigated agricultural lands at the foot of the mountain ranges which serve 3,346 farmer-beneficiaries were already adversely affected by the mining activities resulting in decrease of water supply and massive siltation. There were also massive siltation in several coastal municipalities of Surigao del Sur affecting thousands of fisherfolks.  The current effects could double or even triple in the long run until the natural resources are exhausted leaving the community with problems beyond their capacity to solve.


Recently, DENR issued an Order dated December 17, 2012, dismissing the Petition for Cancellation of MMDC and CDC’s MPSAs saying that there was no scientific proof of damage to the Cantilan Watersheds.  The DENR decision angered several communities from the farmer-irrigators, indigenous peoples, fisherfolks and local communities of the Municipalities of Cantilan, Carrascal and Madrid. They know better that some serious problems exists, having experienced the recent effects of the watershed destruction in the area.


The air in some areas in Cantilan already includes dust. The children in Cabangahan elementary school, takes in filthy air especially in days without rain, posing threat to their health. The water supply in the irrigation channels is muddy on rainy days and the river already shows evidence of siltation.


More destruction will come if the affected communities will just wait and see the damage caused by mining operations in the watershed. On 21 January 2013, different sectoral heads, church leader, LGU officials and groups of advocates signed a petition letter requesting His Excellency President Benigno C. Aquino III, through DENR Hon. Secretary Ramon Paje, to issue amoratorium on all mining operations in Surigao del Sur, whether operational or in their exploratory stage, pending an assessment to be made by a multi-sectoral group. The letter was handed to Gina Lopez who promised to help them make their letter reach the President.


The symposium was concluded with , over 5,000 people shouting at the top of their lungs and with tears in their eyes “NO TO MINING IN SURIGAO DEL SUR”. Hopefully, the odds will be in their favor.