SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/28 October) – Opposition to the Capitol’s plan to legalize the operation of illegal miners operating in a critical watershed area here is showing no sign of slowing down, with the private sector voicing its dissent in a joint resolution.
Stakeholders from different private organizations in Surigao del Norte urged Governor Sol Matugas in their resolution to strictly prohibit mining activities within the watershed and its buffer zone. They said this will ensure the protection and sustainability of the watershed, a crucial source of potable water.
“The potable water supply of the people of Surigao City, being an important basic human need should be given more weight and importance vis-a-vis the lucrative livelihood of a fewer number of small scale miners,” the resolution said.
The four-page petition was signed by members and officers of some 20 organizations, among them the Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Inc. headed by its president, Willie Gan, and the Junior Chamber International-Surigao Wensies Jaycees led by Loven Bautista- Canon.
Illegal mining within the 976-hectare Parang-Parang Watershed has been going on for decades, and the local water utility, Surigao Metropolitan Water District, said it can’t go on without destroying the integrity of the water source.
SMWD and other cause-oriented groups point to a study showing an alarming rise in mercury content in the water source itself and tributaries near the watershed, including Surigao River, which the utility identified as the city’s future source of potable water.
Over the years, local leaders who attempted to address the problem faced the dilemma of acknowledging the harm the miners have brought to the watershed, and the harsh reality that the more than a thousand miners will be left without livelihood once a forcible closure is enforced.
Matugas says she wants to strike a balance by allowing the illegal miners to register as a cooperative, hence legitimizing their existence. But cause-oriented groups say miners would still be able to operate within the watershed’s one-kilometer buffer zone.
The private groups said they want to see a concerted effort by the provincial and city governments and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ensure that the buffer zone, as identified by the SMWD, is protected from any encroachment.
“The Provincial Government of Surigao should reconsider its plan of establishing a Minahan ng Bayan and instead explore the most sustainable options favorable to the preservation of the Parang-Parang Watershed that serves the best interest of the people of Surigao,” the resolution said.
It also called on Surigao del Norte Representatives Francisco Matugas and Guillermo Romarate Jr. to pass a law to expand the area of Parang-Parang.
The groups also said the boundary dispute as to the delineation of the buffer zone must be resolved through a joint official survey based on the coordinates or boundaries set by Presidential Proclamation No. 635 which recognized the Parang-Parang Watershed as protected area.
The resolution also stressed that the Mines and Geoscience Bureau should identify other alternative mining areas for the Nagkahiusang Gagmayng Minero so that they will not adversely affect the integrity of the watershed.
It also asked Governor Matugas to conduct a wider public consultation with multi-sectoral groups before issuing an official order and position on the small scale mining near the Parang-Parang watershed.
This way, they said, the provincial government and other concerned agencies will have an informed decision on the ongoing argument between mining operations and watershed preservation.
Last week, Provincial Board member Sim Castrence, chair of the committee on environment, discussed the Parang-Parang issue at a committee hearing. (MindaNews)