Earth Day 2017
(Statement of Caraga Watch on Earth Day, 22 April 2017)
It cannot be denied that the greed of large scale mines operating in the region seriously damaged Caraga’s environment. Uncontrolled excavation of the mountains by 23 large scale mining companies caused severe deforestation, landslides, damage to rice fields and siltation of rivers and coastal areas.
Because of this, the people of Caraga were very happy when Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of 14 large scale mines in Caraga after the DENR audit. The people have demanded for the mine closures because of the evident destruction and the effects of such to their livelihood.
Damaged and exploited environment
Close to 5% of the total land area of Caraga or 85,132.85 hectares is mined for nickel, chromite and gold by 23 companies in connivance with 7 foreign mining companies (Mines & Quarries, MGB-Caraga 2017). The damage it caused is affecting a much broader range of land and coastal areas which are the main sources of the people’s livelihood.
One can easily see the severe damage of the environment brought about by uncontrolled open pit mining when going around Caraga. The once fishing island of Dinagat, coastal municipalities of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur and the rivers of Agusan del Sur are red with mud flowing from mined mountains, killing marine life and driving away fish, further drowning small fisher folks in poverty. The productivity of the rice fields of Surigao del Sur is steadily decreasing because of siltation of irrigation sources.
In addition, toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, flow from two foreign owned gold processing plants: Philsaga-Medusa to the Agusan River in Agusan del Sur and Greenstone-Red 5 Ltd to the Mainit Lake in Surigao del Norte, which are sources of irrigation of rice fields.
Amidst decreasing fish catch and rice production, our food sources are further threatened with the conversion of vast agricultural land to oil palm and banana plantations. In Caraga 15,000 hectares of agricultural land have been converted into oil palm plantations by Filipinas Palm Plantations Inc. (FPPI) and Agusan Plantations Inc. (API) in Agusan del Sur. An additional 200,000 hectares is targeted for oil palm plantation expansion in Las Nieves, Cabadbaran and Tubay in Agusan del Norte and in San Luis, La Paz, Esperanza and Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur. More than 24,00 hectares of rice land have also been converted into banana plantations of Dole-Phil and Sumifru in Surigao del Sur.
The expanding plantations in Caraga destroy the environment with toxic chemicals sprayed upon hectares of land to kill pests in plantations and hasten fruit bearing of banana and oil palm trees. It has also caused soil nutrient imbalance and are killing beneficial insects and organisms in the farms. It is turning the land barren.
Exploited mine and plantation workers
Billions of profits from the mineral resources of Caraga are being appropriated by the large scale mines. Miners strongly oppose the DENR directive of closing mine operations as it seeks to continue to amass billions. According to them, more than 20,000 workers will directly lose jobs and more than 300,000 will be affected within the communities. What they did not say is the fact that majority of mine workers are employed for only 3 to 6 months in a year! More than 85% of mine workers are contractual, in short, they have no job security, are receiving low wages, have no benefits and are doing life threatening jobs.
Union busting is widespread among the small number of regular workers who are constantly in danger of losing jobs upon becoming leaders or an active members of unions affiliated with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). In MMDC 7 union officials have been dismissed; in Greenstone-Red 5 Ltd. more than 100 workers and in Philsaga-Medusa 65 workers have been dismissed.
The company use goons, the police and military to harass workers during union elections and actions that expose company violations. Just recently 201 workers were dismissed by CTP Construction and Mining Corp. for the reason that the company will become bankrupt with the closure order of Sec. Gina Lopez; they were dismissed based on an event that has yet to happen. The company also refused to sit down for the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the CTP Workers’ Union-NAFLU-KMU and use the impending closure to hire contractual workers or agencies.
Thousands of agricultural workers are being exploited by Dole, SUMIFRU and Del Monte banana plantations. They suffer low wages, have no job security and receive no benefits. The plantations grabbed the land of farmers and the Lumad.
Large scale miners and plantations not only exploit the environment, they are also exploiting workers and farmers!
Under such conditions, we are calling the people to;
Defend the environment against uncontrolled mine operations and oil palm and banana plantations!
Immediately close down the greedy mining companies extracting mineral resources in the region and the country!
Stop the expansion of banana and oil palm plantations! Carry out free distribution of land among poor peasants and provide them agrarian services to develop the country’s agricultural production and restore the land by planting varied food crops.
Push for the inclusion of environmental protection and appropriate use of the country’s resources in the Social and Economic Reforms (SER) of the Peace Talks between the GRP and NDFP. Support the peace talks!
April 21 – 22, 2017
Earth Day 2017