No to mining, say tribal chieftains of Agusan war-torn community

ZAPANTA VALLEY, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/30 Nov) – Two tribal leaders in this troubled community in the hinterlands of Agusan del Norte said they will not allow mining activities in their area, fearing it would displace them and destroy their lands.

Sitio Maribujoc tribal chieftain Lando Anlagan said they also oppose the plans to put up a hydroelectric plant in their community, believing any large-scale activity will disturb their peaceful way of life.

Anlagan said they didn’t want to turn Zapanta Valley – touted to be rich in mineral reserves—into another Taganito, a mining village in Claver town, Surigao del Norte, where the residents have long complained of the laterites overrunning their rivers, coastlines and other bodies of water, decimating the livelihood of fishermen and farmers.

Mamanwa natives in Claver are also locked up in conflict over royalty share, though the squabbling has recently ebbed down due to intervention by government authorities.

Zapanta Valley natives said this kind of divisiveness was the last thing they want to experience.

Carlos Biyog, another tribal chieftain, sounded more diplomatic, saying he personally dislikes any mining activity in their ancestral land but would not oppose it if his constituents would consent to it.

When the logging companies left in the 80s, Biyog said they left a reliable road network that mining companies have found attractive for their future operations.

Still, Biyog, 39, said it was difficult for the native population to be open about mining operations in their area because of the bad experiences in the past, when Zapanta Valley was still part of a logging concession.

Anlagan agreed, saying the community still feels the decades of abuses by logging companies.

He also suspects that the entry of mining companies had something to do with the recent clashes between government troops and communist rebels in the area. The skirmishes already displaced Zapanta Valley residents thrice this year, the latest occurring as recent as three weeks ago.

Kitcharao Mayor Jenry E. Montante had earlier said Zapanta Valley has rich mineral deposits but said no mining companies have so far expressed interest.

Dr. Naty Castro of Caraga Watch, a pro-environment group based in Butuan City, had earlier blamed the displacement of the Mamanwas to groups with “special interests” in the area. She said the natives may have been deliberately being displaced so that they will leave the area for good.

Castro cited the application of Apical Mining Corporation, which has an approved exploration permit that covers Jabonga and Kitcharao towns.

She added that the Ventura Timber Corporation has an existing Timber License Agreement (TLA) that also covers a portion of Zapanta Valley. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)