SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/06 November) – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Surigao del Norte on Monday voted unanimously to investigate alleged violations by a mining company operating in an island in Placer town, including its reported defiance of an order to stop exploration activities.
Bundok Mineral Resources Corporation (BMRC), an affiliate of Australian-based mineral exploration company Lindian Limited Resources, was ordered by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Caraga region “to refrain from further conduct of any exploration activity in the contract area of SMMC” in a letter signed October 3 by newly-installed regional director Roger A. de Dios.
Last week, MGB personnel led by Mines Management Division engineer Ador J. Patiῆo went to the 1,400-hectare mineral reservation site in Sitio Dakung Sabang, Masapelid Island where BMRC is operating. He said the company has obviously complied with the order as its heavy tractor and drilling equipment lay idle in the area.
But Patino said there were “deficiencies” in the construction of the access roads where the supposed drilling activities took place. The roads slanted towards the sea instead of towards the mountains to avoid siltation.
He said the water surrounding the mountains in Dakong Sabang had become turbid and silted, and there was no silt pond in the area.
Close to a hundred supporters of BMRC that included several barangay officials, company employees, wives and children of workers and a marginal number of anti-mining local officials and residents were present at the site.
At the SP regular session on Monday, barangay officials in Lakandula who are opposed to the exploration activity asked the legislators to stop BMRC’s operations citing among others the company’s alleged failure to comply with the orders issued by de Dios and even MGB Director Leo Jasareno.
Jasareno, in a letter dated August 23, denied the request of San Manuel Mining Corporation, the permit holder of the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement No. 0049-91-XIII, for an extension of its exploration activity on the basis that it has already “reached the maximum limit”.
Under the Mining Act of 1995, a mining company is only allowed an 8-year exploration period, the letter cited.
“Despite the said letter BMRC still continued to operate,” Lakandula barangay kagawad Abelardo Lambus said.
The Sangguniang Bayan of Placer also issued a resolution on October 23 calling on BMRC to stop its exploration activities, which was subsequently signed by Mayor Felimon Napuli.
BMRC and SMMC signed a memorandum of agreement on February 12, 2010 giving the former authority to conduct exploration activities at the Surigao Mineral Reservation area.
Board Member Simeon Vicente Castrence, chair of the committee on environment said in yesterday’s session that with the violations, he was constrained to pass a resolution calling for a similar demand to stop its “illegal and irresponsible” activities.
Another SP member, Atty. Fernando Larong however proposed that if the allegations are true, the SP should instead act on the local community’s demand for an investigation and payment to landowners whose crops and properties were destroyed by BMRC’s operations.
“Given that these (allegations) are all true, it is imperative that we conduct an investigation while also reiterating the resolution of Placer town officials,” he said.
All members of the provincial board will join in the investigation which was yet to be scheduled, board member Myrna Romarate said.
Last week’s inspection in sitio Dakung Sabang by MGB personnel came after Placer municipal councilor Robert Lerio Jr. told de Dios that BMRC was operating without a permit from the municipal government aside from other violations.
“Based on the documents, Bundok Mining failed and violated rules of the MGB and the DENR and several other violations,” Lerio said.
Lambus and the Alyansa sa mga Katawhan sa Lakandula (AKAL) cited that Bundok Mining neither held a public hearing in their community nor obtained their consent.
The MGB has classified the island as a geohazard area prone to landslides. Its main source of potable water lies directly below the site of drilling activities.
‘We’re a victim’
Jon Felipe Agcol, BMRC consultant told supporters during the MGB’s inspection last week that the company is in fact a victim of government’s inaction.
He said BMRC has already complied with the requirements of the MGB but it was only two years later that it acted, referring to the August 23 letter of Jasareno.
Asked for comment on Agcol’s statement, Patino said only Jasareno can explain MGB’s decision.
Vivian Yang, general manager of BMRC declined to issue a statement but said that her speech to supporters regarding a signature campaign launched by Lambus and several Lakandula residents is what is “on record.”
She said: “We will absolutely follow and comply with what MGB and government is requiring us to do but this signature campaign is something which I cannot agree [with].”
Saying the signature campaign had resorted to lies, Yang presented Jesus Gipala, a resident of Lakandula, who claimed he signed the position paper believing it was about a water project for their barangay.
Lambus in a separate interview denied Yang’s allegation and said Gipala volunteered to sign the position paper.
Meanwhile, several women randomly interviewed at the site said exploration activities stopped a week ago.
Patino said those who said the company only stopped operations upon learning of MGB’s presence have to show proof.
“They followed the stoppage order. The workers have also complained that they have not been working. Let them prove it,” he said.
Lakandula barangay chair Eutiquio Saga Jr. said: “The people of Lakandula are not opposed to mining. In fact the people have seen the good effects of mining like what is happening in Hinatuan.”
Hinatuan is a neighboring island where another mining company is operating.
Saga said BMRC has more than 200 employees who are mostly locals. About 80 of these are regular workers, he added. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)