Anti-mining group in Caraga refuses seat in gov’t-led monitor

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/26 April) – A multi-sectoral environment group has turned down an offer from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of Caraga Region for a seat in the multipartite team which is tasked to monitor compliance with mining regulations.

Caraga Watch, a coalition of multi-sectoral groups, said they prefer to maintain their status as an independent group.

MGB director Alilo Ensomo made the offer in a dialogue with the group after a picket rally held outside his office here Monday.

“We would like to invite a representative from you (Caraga Watch) to take part in monitoring because you are more credible than us. (And) this is just a critical collaboration because this doesn’t mean that because you are part of this, you will be called ‘pro-mining’,” Ensomo said.

The MGB opened its gates and served snacks to hundreds of protesters who arrived in a caravan and held a rally denouncing the massive mining operations in Caraga.

The protesters numbering almost 2,000 criticized the agency for allowing the entry of large-scale mining operations in the region and called for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995.

Ensomo earlier said he would welcome the group and hold a dialogue with them.

Caraga Watch gave Ensomo their position paper calling for the immediate stoppage of large-scale mining operations, repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 and the immediate stoppage of military operations in the hinterlands of the region which has reportedly caused the displacement of 335 Mamanwa families or 1,156 individuals.

Caraga Watch spokesperson Fr. Raymund O. Ambray said they welcomed Ensomo’s invitation but had to decline the offer to avoid a repeat of the past.

“It happened before that we were part of the monitoring team, but we decided to withdraw because our observations were just drowned out by those of the majority,” Ambray said.

The group said they may still do monitoring but will come out with their own “independent result.”

Edgar Canda, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Surigao del Norte, agreed with Ambray saying they wanted to maintain their independence.

Ensomo admitted that the MGB and its mother agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are viewed as “corrupt”, but added the presence of Caraga Watch will provide “the critical voice” for the team.

The Mining Act provides for the creation of the monitoring team “to ensure compliance of approved environmental programs.”

The team is composed of representatives from an environment NGO, the affected communities, the contractor, the DENR-Regional Office and the representative of the MGB regional office as head.

Team members receive honorarium, which Ensomo said is one of the sources of strong allegations that the MGB is corrupt.

No illusions

Ambray said the dialogue apparently scored points for MGB, although he noted it was more symbolic and did not mean a concrete change of position on the part of the government.

“We don’t have high expectations. We are happy that he (Ensomo) talked with us and accepted our petition. But it will still be up to the President to make the move,” he said.

Avel Javier of Bayan Caraga expressed similar observations but emphasized that there is still a great number of the people that has to be informed on the effects of mining.

Fourteen of the 28 existing mining operations in the country are in Caraga. As of March 31, 2012, MGB has approved 56 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements covering 130,420.725 hectares or 6.9% of the region’s total land area, Caraga Watch said.

A total of 16 exploration permits were also approved covering 37,716.22 hectares.

The group said that ongoing military operations  in Cabadbaran and Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte and Alegria and Gigaquit in Surigao del Norte are intended to facilitate the entry of mining ventures. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)