Biz group wants Surigao watershed preserved

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/21 March) – A local business group has made known its position on the still unresolved issue of whether to allow a Minahang Bayan or people’s small-scale mining area in the city’s watershed.

Saying the issue is the not the miners but the financiers, Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) president Willy A. Gan said their “abstract” position is “to preserve our watershed.”

Gan’s statement was the first from SCCI since the provincial government initiated the setting up of a Minahang Bayan in 2011 in Parang-parang watershed where illegal mining activities have persisted.

Last year, after a series of consultations with provincial and local stakeholders particularly the Nagkahiusang Gagmay’ng Minero (Nagami), Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol F. Matugas agreed to create the PSSMA, the first in the mineral-rich province.

But Matugas’ decision was stalled by the petition of the board of directors of the Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD) last December 16, 2011 against Nagami’s permit to operate.

The permit, filed at the Provincial Mines and Regulatory Board, covers 20 hectares of land in barangays Mat-i and Mabini in Surigao City.

SMWD said Nagami’s operation will encroach on the watershed’s buffer zone endangering the city’s water source.

Gan said the Chamber with its over 200 members is inclined to support the SMWD on the basis of water as a resource vital to human survival and the environment.

He added the issue at hand is not about the miners but the presence of unnamed financiers who are actually behind the illegal mining activities in the area.

“The miners don’t have the money to finance themselves, wala man gani kini sila ginakaon (they don’t even have food to eat),” the Chamber president said.

Gan instead challenged the financiers to join a dialogue with all the stakeholders and air their side.

“Maayo man moapil sila sa dialogue kay maminaw sab kita sa ila side,” (It’s better for them to join the dialogue so that we can hear their side) Gan said.

The business leader said “greed” has become the motivation behind the unresolved conflict in the gold-rush area including rumors that some financiers are armed and dangerous.

He said by allowing the financiers to take part in a dialogue, “we will be able to minimize their greed kay magbahin bahin kita ini sa responsibilidad (because we will then be sharing the responsibility). Dili sab pwedi na ato i-sacrifice ang environment kay an ato sab protektahan an ato (We can’t also sacrifice the environment since we want to protect our) water source.”

Gan said that in small-scale mining activities, the miners remain poor and the financiers richer.

“Take for example the case in Diwalwal. The miners until now are still poor, while only a few who actually have the money, are the ones who end up rich or richer,” he said.

Sources who know the method commonly used by small-scale miners called “tunneling” is done said the construction of one tunnel will already cost hundreds of thousands of pesos.

The expenses will cover food, equipment and other basic needs for the laborers.

Gan said it is important that financiers take part in resolving the Parang-parang controversy because it is the interest of the local people of Surigao that is at stake being the users of the water coming from the watershed. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)