Environmentalists picket MGB regional office in Surigao

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 March) – Exasperated residents from several towns in Surigao del Sur swooped down on the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) here to push for the implementation of a court order issued two years ago against Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC) for allegedly operating in a declared watershed forest reserve.

Residents from the town of Cantilan and other parts of Surigao del Sur march on the streets in Surigao City Monday afternoon to protest the non-enforcement by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau regional office of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order issued in 2010 against Marcventures Mining and Development Corp's operations in Cantilan's watershed. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas
Residents from the town of Cantilan and other parts of Surigao del Sur march on the streets in Surigao City Monday afternoon to protest the non-enforcement by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau regional office of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order issued in 2010 against Marcventures Mining and Development Corp’s operations in Cantilan’s watershed. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas

After failing to get a positive response at last January’s meeting with the same office, the group led by the Social Action Center of the Vicariate of CarCanMadCarLanPar (referring to the five municipalities of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza, and Barangay Parang of Cantilan, in Surigao del Sur, also referred to as CCMCLPar) decided to take to the streets their concern and stage a picket at the MGB office here.

“So we’re here again so you will act fast. We will not go home until you will comply with this,” Emma Hotchkiss, president of the Nagpakabana na Carcanmadcarlanon (NnC), told MGB officials in a dialogue Monday afternoon.

At least 90 environment advocates representing the five towns marched towards the office of the MGB around 4 p.m. Monday to demand the immediate implementation of the temporary environment and protection order (TEPO) issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in Cantilan two years ago.

Last January 31, Hotchkiss, Msgr. Florio Falcon (judicial vicar of the Diocese of Tandag), Fr. Frank Olvis (vicar forane of the SAC CarCanMadCarLanPar), environmentalist groups, farmers, fisherfolks and irrigators’ association meet with Caraga’s new MGB chief, Engr. Roger A. de Dios, on the same issue. But the latter issued a similar stance as his predecessor, Alilo Ensomo – MGB cannot implement the TEPO because it is not party to the case.

Hotchkiss said she finds it incomprehensible that a government agency principally tasked to regulate mining concerns refuses to enforce the TEPO. On Nov. 11, 2010, the court issued a TEPO against MMDC for operating in a declared watershed forest reserve.

The municipal government of Cantilan, various groups and stakeholders conducted an ocular inspection later. On May 26, 2011, the court affirmed the effectivity of its ruling “until there is an order lifting or revoking the same.”

On August of the same year a congressional inquiry was held, prompting MGB Director Leo Jasareno to commit a compliance. Consequently, on August 18, a memorandum was issued by Jasareno addressed to Ensomo to enforce the TEPO.

An earlier interview with a company official denied the group’s contention, saying MMDC complied with the ruling for the next three days.

Hotchkiss on one hand expressed her exasperation, saying the group has been given a run-around by the MGB. During last Monday’s meeting, Engr. Reynaldo Gonzales (the mine environment, health and safety division chief who was the OIC at this time) told the group they will wait for the decision of the director.

De Dios is reportedly in Manila since last week and is attending an expanded meeting on Monday with other officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Earlier, De Dios confirmed a letter has been forwarded to Jasareno but the latter, in a separate interview, said he has not received any complaint that the TEPO has not been enforced.

Asked if the dialogue held Monday was a “stalemate,” Gonzales said: “We are doing our best to bring the letter to the director.”

Director’s order

“I don’t find the logic here when you question your director’s order,” Hotchkiss said, referring to the continued refusal of the regional office to comply with Jasareno’s order which was issued in 2011.

Chito Trillanes, spokesperson of SAC CCMCLPar, said the group recognizes the authority of the MGB to resolve the issue at hand but likewise lamented that it failed to act on a serious concern of the people – the Watershed Forest Reserve which serves the irrigation and water needs of three towns, namely, Cantilan, Madrid and Carrascal.

Trillanes said despite the TEPO, MMDC continued to operate without letup, causing further destruction of the watershed and causing the significant reduction of water inflow into the irrigation canals in Cantilan and Madrid.

The Cantilan Watershed Forest Reserve is protected under Presidential Proclamation No. 1747.

Trillanes said the livelihood of local farmers have been greatly affected, citing the latest Farmers-Irrigators Association report that an estimated 400 hectares of rice land has not been planted during last year’s cropping season.

“Because of their failure to plant, an estimated 1.6 million kilograms of potential rice harvested or an equivalent of P24 million of farmers’ income was lost,” he said.

Trillanes questioned a document received by the LGU of Cantilan which was hand-delivered by a personnel of MMDC. “The MMDC was the one who delivered the document wherein it became the postmaster of the MGB?” he said.

The document referred to is a letter issued by MGB tenements head Charlo Basadre to MMDC about the memorandum issued by Jasareno.

“We also questioned why the MGB issued an OTP (Ore Transport Permit) when it did not even ask permit from the Cantilan LGU. We were told earlier by Dir. De Dios that a town permit is not needed but when we looked outside of the office, the mayor’s permit is part of the requirements in the issuance of the OTP,” he said.

“We are very serious of this matter and we will not go home unless this thing is acted upon by the MGB,” Trillanes said.

Run around

Hotchkiss said the group has been given a run-around for several years now, citing their grievance against Jasareno and other MGB officials. “We don’t find logic here. Or there can’t be stupid logic because if it is stupid, then there is no logic to it,” she said.

She said Jasareno told them it cannot enforce the TEPO because of the standing motion for reconsideration that the mining company has filed against the TEPO.

Further, Hotchkiss – the younger sibling of retired Philippine Air Force General William K. Hotchkiss III, who is now the executive director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines also known as staunch environmental advocate who is anti-mining – said even the court has given them a similar treatment as judges assigned to the TEPO case have been repeatedly inhibiting themselves.

“And now, the MGB is saying this and that and we’re treated like we’re six-year olds,” she exclaimed. “Our feeling now is, who is going to protect us?” she lamented.

“We are doing our right to be heard that’s why we are here on the streets,” Trillanes said.

He added that the group is emotional because of “our sorrow towards our land which is a watershed. This is our life, engineer,” addressing Gonzales.

With no result at hand owing to the absence of De Dios, the group said they will continue to set up their picket lines. (Vanessa L. Almeda / MindaNews)