GONZAGA, Cagayan - A wrecked water tank of the village health center is all that is left of Zone 7 of Barangay Caroan, a village along the coastline of Gonzaga town in Cagayan province. Around 100 houses used to stand in the coastal area but are now submerged under water.
Residents who attended a Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo workshop in the village on October 3 expressed fears that water may also swallow their houses in the coming days. To make things worse, no relocation site has been assigned and residents said they have nowhere to go.
The coastline of Gonzaga, which is surrounded by water from the Babuyan Channel in the north, the Buguey Lagoon in the west and a small river in the south, started to subside as early as the 1990s, Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator Emy Bukaneg said in an interview. "Tubig ang kalaban ng barangay," he said.
However, village councilor Armando Sola said drastic subsidence of the coastline in their village started when black sand mining companies started exploration in 2010. Studies from local and international groups have proven this observation to be true.
The complete list of existing Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (document dates June 30, 2015) shows four mining corporations were approved to explore magnetite and other associated mineral deposits starting June 9, 2010 in offshore areas of Sanchez Mira, Pamplona, Abulug, Ballesteros, Aparri, Buguey and Gonzaga in the province of Cagayan. In September 2013, 10 more firms were granted mining permits in the province.
Polio-stricken Eddie Noriega, 50, used to live with his wife in Zone 7 of Barangay Caroan. In 2014, they had to leave their home and transfer to Zone 6. "Nilalamon na ng tubig ang tinatayuan ng bahay namin kaya kailangan namin lumipat," he said.
This phenomenon was observed as early as 2010, just a few months after the area was opened for black sand mining explorations. Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of the environmental group Kalikasan, said their group conducted an Environmental Investigation Mission from Sept 18-19, 2010 in the municipalities of Cagayan including Gonzaga.
The mission found out that "magnetite mining operations in the coastal areas of Gonzaga and Aparri were found to have resulted in increased vulnerability to and actual erosion through the destruction of sand dunes and the disruption of the coastal sediment budget."
Two years after, the group conducted an Environmental and Social Risk Appraisal on the municipalities of Gonzaga, Aparri and Buguey. The follow-up study reconfirmed the conclusions of the 2010 mission on coastal erosion.
A more recent study entitled Characterization of Black Sand Mining Activities and their Environmental Impacts in the Philippines Using Remote Sensing published in January 28, 2016 by US geologists Estelle Chaussard of the State University of New York and political scientist Sarah Kerosky of the University of California, evaluated the environmental impacts of black sand mining through remote sending. The study highlighted threats to coastal towns nearby black sand mining activities.
"Since most mining sites are at low elevation, the rapid subsidence results in high exposure to flooding and seasonal typhoons, and amplifies the effect of climate change-drien sea level rise," the study concluded.
The study also said that subsidence will likely continue to affect the areas even decades after the cessation of mining activities due to the disruption of the sediment budget.
Meanwhile, Dulce said immediate intervention should be done to save the coastal areas of Gonzaga and other black sand mining areas from sinking.
Bukaneg said the local government plans to build infrastracture projects like a riverbank protection and a sea wall to help save the coastal areas of Gonzaga.
Dulce however said this is not enough. "If magnetite is extracted from the area, there should be a process of rehabilitation. The area should be brought back closer to its original state," he said, adding that the government's planned infrastructure mitigation should be mixed with green belting. "There should be a study on how to restore the ecosystem. If there is no appropriate rehabilitation measure, the areas will be left vulnerable to erosion," Dulce added.
The Mining Act of 1995 states that mining companies have the responsibility of ensuring the rehabilitation of the mining areas. Section 71 of Chapter 11 of the mining law states that "contractors and permittees shall technically and biologically rehabilitate the excavated, minedout, tailings covered and distributed areas to the condition of the environmental safety."