Mining conflict: Farmers claim company seized their lands

PURPLE S. ROMERO,, Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 10 2008 08:13 PM | Updated as of Oct 11 2008 04:13 AM

All may be well in the island of Homonhon right now, but Marina Amoroto, who resides in Brgy. Bitaugan, believes that the apparent peace serves as the calm before the storm.

A couple of months ago, on August 9, 2008, around 200 residents from barangays Cagusuan and Pagbabangnan raided the barracks of Cambayas Mining Corp. in Homonhon, eastern Samar.

Cambayas Mining Corp. (CMC) is reportedly owned by Chinese company Peng Cheng. According to the March 31, 2008 Mining Tenements Statistics Report of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), CMC is currently applying for a mineral sharing production agreement.

The attack was staged mostly by farmers who claimed that the mining company seized the lands awarded to them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through a certificate of stewardship agreement in 1992.

The certificate of stewardship agreement allots its owner the right to till a portion of the forest land for 25 years. Amoroto said that a number of families in her barangay were awarded the certificate.

Amoroto added that nobody from their area is yet up in arms against CMC because they are still able to work on their lands freely, unlike in Brgy. Pagbabangnan, where signs of “No Trespassing” have purportedly been erected on the farmers’ soil.

Mayor's 'permit'

One of those farmers who was greeted with a “No Trespassing” sign when he visited his farm last March 2008 was Eladjio Princillo, or “Tata Ladying.”

Princillo plants kalamansi in his three-hectare land in Brgy. Pagbabangnan, which under the certificate of the stewardship agreement, is placed under his care until 2017.

He was surprised to see the sign, but opted not to take things sitting down. Princillo’s attempt to “regain” his land is chronicled in the documentary “Ha Homonhon,” produced by a group led by Daniel Canada, a member of the non-government organization Kilusang Mangingisda.

As shown in the documentary, Princillo went to the local office of DENR to ask why he was allegedly being prevented from entering the land awarded to him by the government in 1992.

Sadiri Pastores, an environment and natural resources community officer in the neighboring municipality of Guiuan, advised Princillo to put his concerns in writing and assured him that his claim to his land would still be recognized.

Princillo also headed to the office of Guiuan Mayor Annaliza Kwan, who belied that the local government has jurisdiction over the entry of mining companies.

However, RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 stipulates that the local government is plays an active role in the process of granting permits to mining companies and monitoring their activities.

A whole section in Department Order 96-40, the implementing rules and regulations of the revised Mining Act, has in fact been allotted to defining the role of the local government unit in mining projects.

Section 8 emphasizes that the local government unit should ensure that local communities are properly consulted before any mining company could acquire an exploration permit.

Local public officials also have the responsibility and power to demand from mining companies a comprehensive plan for the community’s development and rehabilitation, the nitty-gritty of which are laid-out in the Environmental Compliance Certificate, the Social Development and Management Plan, and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP).

Aside from this, the local government unit is also a member of the multipartite monitoring team which keeps eye on the implementation of the projects specified in the EPEP.

But Kwan maintained that her office has no authority or participation in the approval of mining operations and told Princillo to write a letter to the DENR instead.

DAO 25

But Princillo doubted that both the CENRO and the local government would raise a finger to help him. “Even if I write a thousand letters, nothing would happen,” he said.

Canada told that Princillo would later join the August raid on the barracks of CMC. He set the “No Trespassing” sign which was allegedly put in his farmland, into fire.

We called up CMC to get their side, but we were told that their operations manager is still doing field work and is not available for comment. We also e-mailed questions to the CMC president, but we have not yet received any response.

Aside from mining, however, one of the potential threats to the farmers’ stewardship claim that was also raised in the documentary is the implementation of DENR Administrative Order No. 25, (DAO 25) or the “Guidelines in the Implementation of Upland Agroforestry” in 2005.

DAO 25, signed by then DENR Sec. Michael Defensor, opens around four million hectares of Philippine forest lands for the development of upland agroforestry farms and plantations.

It was concurrently signed on November 17, 2005 with DAO 24, which on the other hand, allows business enterprises to use “idle” coastal areas for fish production and other “non-extractive activities.”

Sec. 3 of DAO 25 stipulates that that the four million hectares “may” initially include 1. 9 million hectares of land covered by the Community-Based Forest Management Program (CBMFP.)

The certificate of stewardship agreement, which Princillo has, is one of the two types of land tenure instruments issued by the DENR for the use and development of forest lands covered by the CBMFP.

In 2006, local online news site Visayan Daily Star reported that Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Antonio Cabrido confirmed that 25 CBFMP agreements were cancelled in Negros Oriental as a result of the implementation of DAO 25.

However, Pastores assured Princillo that his CBFMP claim would not be cancelled because it was issued before 2005. He added, however, that those which were given out after the issuance of DAO 25 would be voided.

We called up DENR Undersecretary Eleazar Quinto and former DENR Sec. Michael Defensor to confirm this but we were not able to reach them.