Official sees no approval of Minahang Bayan in Surigao this year

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/14 November) – Time is not on the side of a miners’ group to have its Minahang Bayan (People’s Mining) application approved by the provincial government of Surigao del Norte by yearend, according to Provincial Environment and Management Officer Ivonnie Beltran Dumadag.

Dumadag issued the statement on Monday in light of pronouncements by several members of the provincial board to grant approval to the application of the Nagkahiusang Gagmay’ng Minero (Nagami) which covers the Parang-Parang watershed, this city’s main source of potable water supply.

The application for the proposed Minahang Bayan that the provincial government has initiated is a “long and tedious process,” she said.

“There are still several documents that need to be complied with, and if there is one aspect of the requirement that is complied, a single requirement will even have several sub requirements that have to be complied first,” she explained.

In a public hearing last month at the Provincial Convention Center, Provincial Board Member Fernando Larong assured members of Nagami that he saw no reason that its application would not be granted.

Last month, the environment committee of the provincial board conducted two committee hearings to shed light on the issues raised by the private sector in relation to the proposal.

The first hearing was attended by members of the Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several private individuals and personalities in the city.

In a unified statement the private sector urged Gov. Sol F. Matugas to “strictly prohibit” mining activities within the watershed area and its buffer zone.

The second hearing was attended by about a thousand members of Nagami, the proponent.

Provincial legislators grilled the group on its supposed ability to police itself against such acts as the reported use of mercury and cyanide as well as regulating its membership.

Nagami spokesperson Junribel Bustillos said that despite the repeated hearings they will not get tired explaining their side “so the public’s misconception will be cleared.”

Bustillos told officials that they still use the “outmoded” panning method that only uses water to amalgamate gold and that any further processes to get the gold from the ores are done in Placer town where processing facilities are reportedly operating.

Small-scale mining activities in Placer is proliferating as it is also considered one of the province’ gold-rich areas having been the seat of the Manila Mining Corporation which closed in the 1990s due to reported environmental destruction and labor dispute.

December deadline

During Monday’s interview, Dumadag said Matugas tasked the provincial committee on environment led by Provincial Board Member Simeon Vicente Castrence to come up with new recommendations for the proposal amid the snowballing protests from the private sector here.

They were given until December to submit their recommendations, she said.

In the said hearing with the private sector, Castrence assured businessmen that the issue would be resolved before the year ends.

“They were given a timetable of December and after that the governor will decide. But as to when, it will still be a long way to go,” she said.

In August, Matugas told MindaNews that the proposed Minahang Bayan was “indefinitely” put on hold pending renewed consultations with various stakeholders including the 150-member Surigao Chamber.

In a position paper supported by 20 other private organizations and civic groups, the chamber urged the governor to “strictly prohibit” mining activities within the watershed and its buffer zone.

“The potable water supply of the people of Surigao City, being an important basic human need should be given more weight and importance vis-a-vis the lucrative livelihood of a fewer number of small-scale miners,” it said.

Illegal mining within the 976-hectare Parang-Parang watershed has been going on for decades, and the Surigao Metropolitan Water District said it can’t go on without destroying the integrity of the water source.  (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)