Anti-mining groups protest presence of mines chamber office in MGB

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/16 March) – Is it all right for an organization of mining companies to hold office at a building of the government agency that regulates the conduct of mining activities, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)?

Environment advocates who have picketed the MGB regional office here since Monday are questioning why the Chamber of Mines Caraga Region Inc. (CMCRI) has been allowed to hold office at the said government building.

The picket was triggered by the refusal of MGB-Caraga to enforce a 2-year old court order stopping MarcVentures Mining and Development Corp. (MMDC) from operating in a watershed reserve in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur.

Chito Trillanes, spokesperson of the Social Action Center of the CarCanMadCarLanPar zone, said this setup doesn’t look good.

CarCanMadCarLanPar refers to the municipalities of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza and Barangay Parang (Cantilan), all in Surigao del Sur, where the protesters came.

“The MGB will end up biased because it is hosting the mining companies. It that’s the case, the MGB should also give us a space so we can easily bring our complaints to them,” he said in the vernacular.

But Dulmar Raagas, president of the CMCRI in a telephone interview said they should not be dragged into the controversy between the protesters, MGB and MMDC.

He said MGB-Caraga accommodated the chamber because it has no money.

“CMCRI is a non-stock, non-profit organization. It is an association of (mining) companies but it doesn’t mean we are into profit making,” the official said.

He said their office space, which is located on the 3rd floor of the building where the MGB regional director also holds office, is a “privilege given to us as partners.”

“Our office is so small it can only accommodate two chairs,” he said.

Raagas, who has been president of CMCRI for five years already, said the chamber’s office was already there even before he was elected to the post.

He added the organization is hardly even earning as its membership fee is only P500. “We cannot even impose an increase to P1,000 because others complained they are already paying to the Chamber of Mines (of the Philippines) where they are already members.”

Caraga region has a total of 27 operating mines, MGBs latest data showed.

Among the big mining firms in the region that are members of the CMP are Nickel Asia Corporation and its affiliates Taganito Mining Corporation, THPAL and Hinatuan Mining Corporation, Platinum Group Metals Corporation, Philsaga Mining Corporation and SR Metals.

Raagas said most CMCRI members are small mining companies.

He said CMCRI is not a member of CMP, and membership to it is not mandatory for all Caraga-based mining firms.

CMCRI is more of a “service institution” that facilitates “easier access to communication with MGB and other concerns,” he said.

Raagas said he is not even paid for his work as president of the organization for the last five years.

Engr. Reynaldo Gonzales, chief of the mine environment, health and safety division, told the protesters on Monday that CMCRI’s presence is temporary, and this was already relayed to the chamber several months ago.

“We already informed them but it has not been realized yet. Thank you for reminding us about this,” Gonzales said.

Raagas said he would welcome it if those who complained about their presence at the MGB can offer an office for them “so we can transfer immediately.” (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)