Forum participants said no to mining in Surigao watershed buffer zone

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/17 August) – Participants in last Tuesday’s Save Parang-Parang Watershed public forum expressed opposition to the continued small-scale mining activities inside the buffer zone of this city’s source of potable water.

Majority of the 150 attendees of the forum held at the Tavern Hotel here voted no, while only about a dozen voted in the affirmative, mostly members of the Nagahiusang Gagmayng Minero (NAGAMI) and environmental officials

Leonil Santos, president of the Surigao campus of Systems Technology Institute (STI), pointed out that the presence of the miners in the buffer zone has already threatened the Parang-Parang watershed.

Santos said there should be no mining activity in the buffer zone so that the watershed can be saved from further destruction as a result of illegal mining, illegal cutting of trees and other destructive activities.

“What’s the use of a buffer zone if it will be used for destructive activities such as this small scale mining?” he asked.

Sara Dequina, a student at the Surigao State College of Technology, believes that allowing mining activities at the buffer zone was unacceptable. She said that even if the mining is legal and highly regulated, mining there would not give any guarantee that the watershed can maintain its integrity as the source of potable water to thousands of city residents.

The one-kilometer buffer zone serves as the fence of the 967-hectare protected Surigao Parang-Parang Watershed. But the line delineating it remains imaginary because the President has yet to declare the buffer zone as a protected area.

The NAGAMI, which has over a thousand members operating in the area, is pushing for a “Minahang Bayan” (people’s small-scale mining area) declaration to legitimize their existence. Aside from NAGAMI members, there are also a number of illegal miners in the area which remain unaccounted for.

Engr. Benjamin R. Ensomo Jr., Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD) general manager, said the buffer zone serves as a shield of the watershed, being a declared protected area.

NAGAMI has a proposed a 20-hectare area for its Minahang Bayan located in Barangay Mat-i and Mabini. NAGAMI admits that a sizable portion of their claim is located inside the proposed buffer zone of the Parang-Parang watershed.

NAGAMI spokesperson Junribel Bustillo said their proposed mining area has been cut down to 18 hectares because they moved away by 50 meters from the boundary of the watershed.

But Ensomo said that the 18-hectare area NAGAMI wants still includes a vast portion within the boundaries of the watershed, not just the buffer zone.

“Plotting of the technical description of the watershed on a map will reveal that the geographical coordinates where the proposed small scale mining site can be found is squarely within the watershed boundaries,” he stressed.

Ensomo said NAGAMI’s application for an Environmental Certificate Compliance to conduct small-scale mining over the area could create a legal controversy as it is prohibited by Presidential Proclamation No. 635 and later by the Republic Act No. 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

But Jocelyn H. Maceren, ecosystem management specialists at the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, said buffer zones are classified as mixed-use areas, which means these can be utilized for small scale mining activities.

Maceren said other activities can be done in the buffer zone as long as the protection of the watershed area is guaranteed.

Ensomo pointed out that based on the resolution of the board of directors of SWMD, the area NAGAMI wants is the exact location of the proposed 200,000-cubic-meter water intake dam.

Last Tuesday’s forum was sponsored by the Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., the Junior Chamber International Surigao Wensie and the Junior Chamber International Surigao in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)