Church leads anti-mining protest in Dipolog

DIPOLOG CITY (MindaNews/21 Jan) – Reciting The Holy Rosary while holding aloft placards, around 1,000 protesters led by the Catholic church gathered at the Dipolog Cathedral Wednesday morning and marched around the city’s major streets to protest mining and logging operations in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Dipolog Bishop Jose R. Maguiran, an environmentalist who heads the church’s Dipolog, Iligan, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Ipil and Marawi Committee on Mining Issues (DCMI), explained that the protest action was timed for the mining forum being held by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Chamber of Commerce wherein large-scale and small-scale mining industries were invited.

Aside from Maguiran, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., public affairs director of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Roderick Pabillo, who is also working for the National Secretariat for Social Action (NSSA), joined the protest.

Maguiran was among those invited by the Dipolog Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) to the mining forum at Top Plaza Hotel intended to discuss the supposed benefits of mining and “to promote sustainable mining operation.”

But the bishop opted not to go to the forum. “Why should I go there? Should I sleep with my enemy?” he said. For the bishop, “here is no such thing as sustainable mining.”

“Mining has not enriched our country,” the bishop pointed out. “Learn that from South Africa. It is rich with diamonds and yet it remains among the poorest countries in the world,” he stressed.

Michael Malacca, DCCI president, said that the religious groups could have listened and spoken at the forum on “environmental issues directly affecting the faithful.”

He said the forum was intended for the mining companies to inform the public about the country’s mining laws and what they are doing to abide by responsible mining principles, as well as about their activities in their corporate social responsibility programs.

Mining companies asked to talk about their “best practices” were TVI Resource Development, Sagittarius Mining, Inc. (SMI), Philex, Perfect World Metal Mining Corp., and members of CoreMinz, a group of mining companies operating in the Zamboanga peninsula.

The protesters, as written in their placards and streamers, asked government to scrap the present mining law and adopt the Mineral Resources Management Bill introduced by environmentalists in Congress.

They also demanded that government should focus more on food security and in addressing concerns relating to environmental problems. They cited the case of Murcielagos Bay, situated in the coastal boundaries of Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte, which was recently declared by authorities as contaminated with mercury, a chemical used to extract gold and silver.

Daniel Castillo, executive director of DCMI, explained that in Mindanao, there are 2.7 million hectares of lands covered by mining applications from 346 companies. If excavations and extractions will be granted in all these sites, 15 million people, mostly lumads, will be dislocated from their economic base, he added.

Citing MGB records, Castillo pointed out that in the Zamboanga Peninsula alone, about 45.25 percent of the area’s 1.5 million hectares are covered in the applications submitted by 137 mining companies. “Some of which are already covered with exploration permit (EP), Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) approved since 2009,” he said.

“These raise serious concerns among residents in coastal areas because land slide, soil erosion, and siltation are now evident in Dipolog’s shores and rivers,” Castillo said, noting that fisher folks are now being affected.

He said they are proposing for a 25-year moratorium on mining operations within the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Maguiran also commented that if government will allow open pit mining operation in the peninsula, the deluge of excavated soil will be worse than the impact of aerial bombings when Japan invaded the Philippines during World War II. (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)