Stop 'black sand' mining in Ilocos, Pangasinan, SC urged

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2012 03:18 PM | Updated as of May 05 2012 09:01 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Public officials and concerned citizens filed with the Supreme Court (SC) this morning a petition for the Writ of Kalikasan against President Aquino, other government officials, and Altamina Exploration and Resources, Inc. in connection with "large-scale mining operations" of magnetite ore in the Ilocos-Pangasinan coastline.

The petitioners are led by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino, Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino, Gabriela Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerciana de Jesus, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party Rep. Antonio Tinio, Santa, Ilocos Sur Mayor Jeremy Jesus Bueno III, and Salcedo, Ilocos Sur Mayor Leonofre Gironella.

Petitioners also urged the high court to issue a temporary environmental environmental protection order (TEPO) to stop ongoing exploration and mining activities in the area, and nullify Altamina's formal agreement with government for being "unconstitutional, illegal, and for having been signed and approved with grave abuse of discretion."

Petitioners fear danger to the lives and property of residents, massive residential displacement, saltwater flooding, landslides, weakening or destruction of the natural defenses and barriers of coastal communities, and the loss of fishing livelihood rights due to the exploration and mining operations.

They pointed out that several resolutions had been passed by local governments in the area to "underscore the concerns of citizens with regard to magnetite mining."

They hit, for being a "midnight mining deal," the signing of a Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) on June 29, 2010, a day before the formal turnover of power between the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, between then Arroyo Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Altamina Exploration and Resources, Inc. covering an area of over 9,588 hectares in the coastal and offshore areas of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Pangasinan.

"The environmental damage that will be caused by the approval of the two exploration permits and the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement made in favor of Altamina... and  the subsequent conduct of exploration and mining operations... will affect the residents of Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, particularly the municipalities of Santa and Santa Catalina and the City of Vigan, Ilocos Sur," the petition read.

The petition cited recent studies by Brown and McLachlan, Continental Shelf Associates, Inc., Crutchfield, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum, and Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines that detailed the adverse effects of exploration and extraction processes on the environment and human life.

Petitioners claimed that barangays Subec, Paratong, Sinabaan, Pangada, Cabaroan, Tamorong, Cabittaogan, and Poblacion Sta. Catalina experienced "massive and worsening coastal erosions and shoreline retreat since 2010," by around 150 meters from 2011 to 2012, and 100 meters from Jan. to Feb. this year in Paratong and Tamorong.

They pointed out that magnetite or locally termed 'black sand,' is an "important mineral that keep sand particles heavier and more compressed" thus serving as a natural barrier of land surfaces and fresh water deposits from seawater and ensures that seawater is at a lever lower than land surface area.

Petitioners also argued that the FTAA should have been signed by then Pres. Gloria Arroyo, herself, not her Executive Secretary.

"Under the 1987 Constitution, it is the President of the Philippines who must enter into agreements involving financial or technical assistance related to the large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils," the petition read.

Petitioners urged the high court to order respondents to undertake measures to rehabilitate areas affected by the exploration and mining activities such as providing geological intervention, marine wildlife rehabilitation, residential relocation, among others.

Exec. Sec. Paquito Ochoa, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sec. Ramon Jesus Paje were also named as respondents in the petition.