Anchor: Abner Mercado
Palawan is the Philippine’s Last Frontier—its richness in biodiversity is beyond comparison amongst other tourist destinations worldwide. It boasts of a mantel of rainforests, grandiose mountains, prehistoric caves, pristine dive sites and beaches.
Among many others, its virgin forests are rich in minerals such as mercury, copper and nickel—all of which are sought after by local and international miners.
Mining in Palawan is said to have destroyed forests and caused siltation of water sources, causing farmers and other Palaweños to cry for help in protecting their land. While mining provides job opportunities for some, the degree of damage to the earth, on the livelihood of farmers and Palaweños’ general well-being has become exceptionally alarming.
The issue caught greater public attention with the death of environmentalist and radio commentator Dr. Gerry Ortega in January 24. He used the media for his apparent advocacy to stop mining in his native land.
The ire of the people for the slaying of Ortega translated into a nationwide signature campaign to fulfill his dream and to finally put an end on the destruction of their region. The Save Palawan Movement aims to gather ten million signatures to represent ten percent of the Philippine’s entire population.
Abner Mercado, ABS-CBN News Correspondent, is at one with their crusade. He deeply desires to make people realize what is really at stake—the irreversible damage to the earth for temporary wealth and livelihood. Stop mining in Palawan!
Farming vs. mining
One outweighs the other depending on which side you benefit from. As there is always to sides to a coin, there are also two faces of mining. One profits while the other suffers the consequences.
For someone whose livelihood depends entirely on agriculture, mining is a severe detriment. From Barangay Calategas in Narra, Palawan, Rolinda Villanueva or Aling Yolanda cries at the sight of her rice grains. The harvest dwindled from 60 to 18 sacks of rice—the product, a far cry to the quality she used to sell and feed her family.
Rice grains are often white or brown but Aling Yolanda’s are noticeably red. When cooked, the rice still becomes sticky even after seven washes. She weeps in desperation just looking at it. They could barely eat it but says they do not have a choice.
The rice poses serious health risks because of the presence of laterite, a red residual soil enriched with aluminum and iron oxides. Aling Yolanda’s family could suffer from food poisoning if they continue to eat the red rice. Because of that, it has also become impossible for her to sell the sacks they yielded.
Narra, Palawan is considered as the rice granary of Palawan. Sadly, it caught the eye of mining companies, for instance, Nickel Mining Development Corporation and City Nickel. According to the farmers, the soil and rivers are being ravaged—they have turned red during its operations.
“Yong dating top soil nasa baba na. Yong nasa itaas iyong laterite. Kaya iyong palay, wala nang sustansiya. ‘Yong laman noong palay walang kuwenta iyong bunga. Habang kumakapal iyong laterite, pababa ng pababa ang ani namin”, farmer Teofilo Tredez explains.
(What used to be the top soil is now underneath the laterite. The rice grains have lost its nutrients, it has become useless. As the laterite thickens, our harvest decreases.)
Farming has been their source of income all their lives. Aling Yolanda once dreamed of breaking out from poverty so her children could have better lives. But now, despite all their hard work, they could barely survive. They are just one of the many families who are clamoring for the forbiddance of mining in Palawan.
In contrast to the plight of farmers, Miguel Ventura is a miner who lives in the town of Bataraza where the largest mining operation can be found—the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Development Corporation (RTN) which started mining in Palawan in the 1970s.
Miguel favors the mining activities in their town. Because of it, he was able to send his children to a private school and build a home for his family. Aside from his salary of P8,000 a month, he also receives benefits as a bulldozer operator for RTN.
While he understands the risks involved in addition to the impact of mining to the environment, Miguel is grateful to his company and will continue to partake in the mining industry because he sees no other livelihood that gives better compensation.
Mining companies like RTN are said to have established schools and hospitals for their employees as well.
Meanwhile, Abner visited the mining site on the report of an overturned barge loaded with tons of nickel ore last March. The cargo was about to be shipped out to China and Japan—major traders of nickel worldwide. He was reminded of the Marinduque Marcopper accident in 1996, the largest industrial tragedy in the country.
Engineer Ricardo Esquires, Assistant Resident Mine Engineer of RTN, confirmed the incident. It happened on the first night of March due to terrible weather conditions. In their defense, Engr. Esquires says it did not cause any damage to the sea. They realize the necessity of caution and believe that the accident will not happen again with proper weather forecasting.
Gomer Miano, Barangay Captain of Rio Tuba, came into RTN’s defense as well, saying that the company has helped their area progress on account of the amount of tax the corporation pays. Furthermore, Captain Miano says that RTN follows the provisions of Mining Act of 1995.
RTN boasts of their reforestation project but Abner argues how insufficient such efforts can still be if compared to the extent of damage it has caused the mountains.
With the emergence of industrialization and commerce, nature is being utilized to its maximum capacity and even beyond. Palawan is being regarded in particular because it is one of the few left in the country with corpulent rainforests and fresh bodies of water.
Palawan feeds the La Mesa Watershed. In itself, it has a total of 33 watersheds capable of supplying water to the whole country if only well taken cared of. Likewise, Palawan is also home to various kinds of animals not found anywhere else. Mining causes the destruction of the species’ habitat, endangering them more than ever.
“Pinapatay mo kung saan tayo Number 1. And ano mangyayari diyan pagkamina, wala. ‘Yong minerals kinukuha sa bansa natin, dinadala sa ibang bansa. Paano tayo nakikinabang niyan?”, Gina Lopez, Executive Director of ABS-CBN Foundation, asserts.
(You are killing where we are number one. And what happens after mining? Nothing. The minerals are taken from ours, brought to other countries. How do we benefit in that situation?)
Enacted in 1992, the Republic Act 7661 or Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP Law) enforces rules and regulations in order to protect the natural wonders of Palawan. In its provisions, it states that all forests are core zones—areas of maximum protection. However, companies are still being granted authorization to mine in core zones.
Attorney Gerthy Mayo Anda, Founding Executive of Environmental Legal Assistance Center, supposes that corruption is the reason why mining permits are still being issued despite the prohibition.
At a press conference held last February 10, former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes denied the allegations of issuing mining permits and his involvement on the death of Dr. Ortega. This is also the stance of the current governor, Chairman Baham Mitra. Both officials pass on the blame to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
But DENR Secretary Ramon Paje contests, saying that Palawan has a specific law [SEP Law] and that even if they grant permits and licenses, they do not process without clearance [from the local government].
“It will not take effect without the clearance of the Provincial Government in Palawan and PCSD”, he says.
Both parties have the power and responsibility, which makes them both accountable for the deliverance of Palawan from mining. Instead of constantly debating over who is to blame, government and non-government officials, as well as ordinary Palaweños should come together and act to save Palawan from the brink of devastation.
Make your signature count
Join us in our march to 10 MILLION SIGNATURES to STOP MINING in Palawan. The numbers are rising and with your signature below, we can make a difference! Go to www.no2mininginpalawan.com, sign, and spread the word! Sign the petition, save Palawan. March 17, 2011