Residents picket mining firm’s office in Mati

The protest move was brief, just enough for the spokesperson to read the two-page statement and for BHP Billiton’s guards to note down the plate numbers and the signage of  a public utility jeepney and a media vehicle.

No official from the company came out. Instead, a man stood inside the gated office. fronting the protesters, taking video footage of the 35 protesters from his handphone.  Asked for his name, he said he was Robert de la Cruz. He denied he was chief of security, said he was assigned in drilling, said yes when asked if he was an engineer but declined to say how far the drilling site was or who the manager is and what their phone number is.

Cruz, however, said he would give media’s business cards for the manager to call in the afternoon. The group of reporters left Mati at around 5 p.m. with no call from the manager.

BHP Billiton, according to its website, “is the world's largest diversified resources company” and is “distinguished from other resources companies by: our deep inventory of growth projects; our customer-focused marketing; our diversification across countries, commodities and markets; and our Petroleum business.”

The firm has 100 operations in 25 countries and is the world’s third largest producer of nickel.

BHP Billiton, through its subsidiary, QNI and local mining companies Hallmark Mining Corporation and Austral-Asia Mining Corporation, had earlier secured an MPSA for exploration of nickel deposits in Barangay Macambol, located between Pujada Bay Protected Seascape and Landscape and Mt. Hamiguitan Range, a newly-proclaimed wildlife sanctuary and home to about a hundred hectare “Pygmy Forest” and nesting area of the endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga Jefferyi).

Already, villagers are complaining about how their water supply is no longer as clear since drilling operations began last year. In Sitio Supsopon, according to Datu Bitaog, a Mandaya, residents complained about how the water at one point looked chocolate brown.

Datu Salang, a Manobo, told reporters the firm sought the consent only of indigenous peoples known to favor mining. He said a consultation was held behind  closed doors and that he was not allowed to speak.

The Datu said they have an application for Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title over 14,222 hectares, part of which is now being claimed as exploration site of the mining firm.

The residents fear an environmental disaster that would affect their fishing and farming livelihood as the project areas “sit in the heart of five major sensitive areas” – the approved total land area of 4,778 hectares “overlaps the five major drainage system and watershed,” according to the Environmental Assessment Report on the Balete Bay Watershed of Mati, Davao Oriental, submitted by Mines and GeoSciences regional director Constanco Paje, Jr. to Rep. Mayo Almario.

“The major streams either drain towards the Pujada Bay or the Davao Gulf” and are the main source of water supply for domestic use of the community living within and around the area.

According to a briefing paper prepared by the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama ng Kalikasan (LRC-KsK), the project area also “overlaps with Mt. Hamiguitan Range,” home to the “Pygmy Forest,” exotic plants and animals, including the Philippine Eagle, and source of income for the community who sell rattan, timber and non-timber projects.

Just below the contract area is Pujada Bay, a protected seascape and landscape by Presidential Proclamation 431. A biodiversity hotspot, it is home to the endangered dugong (sea cows), sea turtles and sting rays and is a major source of livelihood of the community, the briefing paper states.

It also noted that the Pujada region is delineated in the revised geology of the Philippines as “Pacific-Cordillera” fault line. Two branches of the active Philippine fault flank the watershed on the southwest and southeast and  “has been subjected to intense seismic activities” and could pose danger to lives and property once diggings begin.

Also, the briefing paper said, the MPSA’s overlap with the ancestral domain claim of the Mandaya tribe in barangays Macambol and Cabuaya.

In Manila, also last Monday morning, Quezon (4th district) Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino accompanied community petitioners in filing separate petitions against the MPSA and FTAA, the mining law’s “fiscal regimes.”

The petitioners cited the “onerous and unjust” fiscal regimes under the Mining Act, “preventing the Philippine government from getting its just share in the revenues from mining operations and thus, violating the constitutional principle and provision of ‘equitable sharing of  wealth’ in the utilization of the nation’s natural resources, including minerals.”

Datu Victor Aying, one of the community-petitioners from Macambol who was present during the filing of the petitions said Section 90 of the Mining Act and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENRA) Administrative Order 96-40 issued under the term of former Secretary Mike Defensor “short-changed the government’s share of revenues by ‘explicitly limiting government’s share to excise taxes’ only.”

The statement quoted Aying as saying that  “limiting government’s share to mere excise taxes is therefore short-changing government, as the power of taxation is a given role of the state.”

MPSA, he said, “does not provide a just share for the government from the revenues arising from mining operations done on Philippine soil.”

The MPSA is defined by RA 9742 or the Mining Act of 1995 as “an agreement where the Government (as owner-in-trust of the minerals in the mining areas) grants to the mining companies (as contractors) the exclusive right to conduct mining operations within a contract area and shares in the gross output.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)