CANTILAN, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/28 April) – Residents supporting and opposing mining in the province held separate rallies Saturday, the former led by Carrascal mayor and former Governor Vicente Pimentel, the latter led by Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar.
Odchimar, former president of the Catholic Bishop Church in the Philippines (CBCP) said he did not need to speak after seeing at least 4,000 residents from various towns gather in response to his and environmentalists’ call for an “all-out protest” against mining and to take a stand for mother earth.
Thousands more of representatives from the church and from various sectors also participated s by forming a human chain along the national highway from Cantilan to Madrid town at around 8 a.m.
In Madrid, a program was held near the Carac-an River shortly before noon.
In Carrascal town, some 1,000 residents and mine workers from mining companies operating in Carrascal expressed their support for mining, in a rally led byPimentel.
Participants gathered on the sides of the national highway and were entertained by a band at around 10 a.m. The rally in Carrascal was held also before noon.
No to mining
Cantilan Mayor Genito Guardo said majority of his constituents are opposed to mining because the mining activities of Marc Ventures Mining Development Corporation has caused the degradation of their environment.
He said residents are in danger because their watershed has been affected by the ongoing mining operations which he said had no permit to operate.
He blamed the mining firm for aggravating the situation, citing, among others, an “unprecedented flooding” last year which destroyed thousands of hectares of farmlands.
Guardo said the mining firm has contributed nothing, “not even a single centavo” to the town’s coffers.
He said Marc Ventures attempted to secure a permit for its nickel mining project and even tried to pay local taxes but he said the people of Cantilan do not need their taxes and their presence.
Retired Air Force Brig. General Charles Hotchkiss, now executive vice president of the family—owned Cantilan Bank, said mining operations do not just pollute the rivers and shorelines of Surigao del Sur but also ruin the life of the entire community.
Employees of the bank joined Hotchkiss in the riverside rally. The Carac-an River, said Hotchkiss, feeds the 14 irrigation systems that provide water for the farmlands in Madrid and neighboring towns.
“Our environment is a gift from God, but creation is in pain because we can see the destruction imposed by man on it. It is very important for us to express how we feel in the protection of our environment, because God did not transfer ownership to us but transferred stewardship to us as caretakers of mother earth,” said Fr. Elvis Petros.
Hotchkiss said he does not mind if mining firms and their allies do not avail of the services of the family-owned bank.
He said Marc Ventures used to transact in the bank but stopped because of the family’s position on mining. His sister, Emma, is president of the Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen, Lanuza (CCMCL) Baywatch Foundation which is very active in opposing mining operations in the area.
Hothckiss said their bank has been serving the area since 1980 and has been helping micro entrepreneurs, especially the farmers.
Mining, he said, is destroying their watershed and his bank’s clients, many of them farmers, have been complaining on the effects of mining in their farmlands.
MindaNews sought the president of Marc Ventures for comment but he could not be reached.
Rosalina Montinegro, a Mamanwa tribe member from Cortes town, told MindaNews that even as there are no mining operations in their town, this doesn’t mean that they are not affected. He said fellow Mamanwas in the affected areas can no longer gather firewood in their area and will therefore move to their area to gather wood and food.
Yes to mining
Carrascal Mayor Vincente Pimentel said mining is needed for his town to progress.
He told MindaNews that mining has contributed to the local coffers but did not say how much. He said the mining sector’s contribution means more funds for education, livelihood, agriculture, infrastructure and other social services.
Pimentel said three large-scale mining firms are operating in this fourth class town: Carrascal Mining Corporation, Marc Ventures, and CTP Construction and Mining Corporation.
CTP stands for Clarence T. Pimentel, the mayor’s elder brother who recently passed away.
Pimentel said that aside from paying taxes, these firms contribute some P70 million to the local government, at P6 per ton as environmental hazard pay.
He said the presence of minerals in his town is a gift from God that must be utilized for the advancement of the people.
Domalyn Calinawan, 30, of Barangay Adlay, Carrascal, Surigao del Sur said mining can help uplift their situation.
She said her husband, a former fisherman, is now a worker in one of the mining firms and can now afford to put food on the table.
She said she joined the rally because the income from mining has helped them raise their six children.
“Kon pangisda lang ang amo saligan, inday (ambot) kon mabuhi kami ini koman (karon),” [if we depended only on fishing, I don’t know if we could survive]. she said.
Surigao del Sur has a long history of mining operations but remains among the poorest of the poor provinces.
In 2008, Mayor Pimentel, then Governor, criticized the Church whose representatives were present in a forum on Marc Ventures’ nickel project, for its stand against mining.
“The Church wants the people to be poor so that people would constantly supplicate on them. We should not allow them to dictate to us. How will the anti-mining advocates solve unemployment?” Pimentel asked, adding in ten years, there will be no more poor people in Carrascal.
Bishop Odchimar had criticized as “bribery” the distribution of P90,000 per barangay captain cash benefits and other assistance including P20-M rehabilitation work of barangay roads and bridges allegedly given by Marc Ventures Mining while its application for environmental clearance was pending.
According to Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau then, the company was implementing its Social Development and Mining Plan.
Participants to Saturday’s anti-mining rally tried to form a human chain in the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmenand Lanuza (CarCanMadCarLan).
An hour later, vehicles from other parts of Surigao del Sur and from as far as Bislig City started arriving at the Carac-an Bridge for a concelebrated mass by the Bishop and parish priests in all 18 towns of Surigao del Sur.
Mayor Guardo said this was the biggest event and the first ever for residents of CarCanMadCarLan who are against mining and the destruction of their ecosystem.
“Since 1995, our town had stood in defiance against mining companies who tried to come in and establish their trade here. Sad to say, they are finding a different way to get inside our town. Now Marc Ventures has started its operation in Barangay Kabangahan part of this town without any business permit and mayor’s permit,” he said.
Guardo explained that even if they want to raid the area since it is illegal, they are exerting efforts to settle the problem to avert bloodshed.
“We are here to support the call for anti mining and the need for us to protect our environment. Our group consisting of almost 200 peoples started our trip at around 2 a.m just to get here on time. On our way, we also noticed other groups as we passed by other towns. It is heartwarming to be a part of such a huge activity,” said Evic Peninsula of St. Thomas parish in Bislig City.
About a hundred police personnel from the consolidated police force of the towns representing CarCanMadCarLan were deployed to the riverside rally venue, supported by the Provincial Public Safety Battalion, complete with ambulances and fire trucks. (Roel Catoto and Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)