Nickel mining firm in Agusan shuts down

SR Metals Inc (SRMI) decided to close down starting September 24 “based on management decision that continuing operation at this point has ceased to be viable,” Anthony Ryan Culima, the company’s acting resident manager said. He added the company had already stopped its marketing operations since September 3.  SRMI started its mining activities in March 2006 under the small-scale mining permit issued by the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board of Agusan del Norte. Reacting to the company’s closure, La Fraternidad Barangay Captain Alicia Guday expressed fears that many parents would be forced to stop sending their children to school especially those who are in college.  She said around 800 residents have become jobless after the company shut down. “We are again facing the problem of unemployment in our locality,” Guday said, adding some sari-sari stores have also closed. La Fraternidad, one of the eight coastal barangays of Tubay, has a population of 1,686 and an annual Internal Revenue Allotment of P500,000.  Tubay, 39 kilometers east of Butuan City, is a fifth class municipality. Guday said SRMI not only provided employment to residents but also contributed revenues to the barangay. She said the company had given P15 million to the barangay as extraction fee in a span of seven months. “At this point, I have no idea as to whether the Tubay nickel project of SRMI would be reopened or transferred to Zambales,” Culima said. But he assured regular workers will still receive their 15-day salary and the casual employees their three-day wages. He said the company was facing financial difficulties with world nickel prices going down by almost half. He said operating with the 60-hectare mining area would limit SRMI‘s capability to sustain its expenses. He pointed out that the company employed 1,200 workers and that majority of their heavy equipment was obtained through loans. The company is reportedly trying to secure large-scale mining permit for a 1000-hectare area in nearby Barangay Binuangan, but their application is still pending at the office of Environment Secretary Lito Atienza.  Two days after the closure, some 500 displaced workers staged a protest rally in front of the municipal building of Tubay to ask Atienza to grant a large-scale mining permit to SRMI. Agusan del Norte Governor Erlpe John Amante assured the protesters he will work for the possible reopening of the mining firm. He said he will talk to President Macapagal-Arroyo and present their demands.  “I will assure you, I will not come back here unless the mining would be reopened”, Amante told the barangay captain of La Fraternidad. But the local church and environmentalist groups have already expressed strong opposition to the operation of mining firms in Tubay, claiming the area is a watershed and bird sanctuary.  Earlier, Butuan City Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos claimed that mining firms violated some policies on small-scale mining by using heavy equipment in their operations. He said these firms present themselves as small-scale miners when in fact they are operating in a large-scale manner. Records at the PMRB showed that SRMI secured on March 2, 2006 a small-scale mining permit covering 20 hectares in La Fraternidad.  Its two sister companies, San R Construction Corp. and Galeo Equipment, were also granted permits to mine 20 hectares each in the same barangay.  Lawyer Rolando Carlota said SRMI and its sister companies violated the 20-hectare limit for small-scale mining ventures by presenting themselves as three separate entities. (Alden Pantaleon/MindaNews)