Miners behind mountain’s destruction in Surigao Norte yet to be sued

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/17 May)—No one has been charged in court in connection with the destruction of portions of Mt. Patag in Barangay Jubgan, San Francisco town as a result of mining activities there, residents said.

Romeo Gordonas, one of the residents, said the mining operation allegedly destroyed the watershed and polluted water bodies downstream.

Earlier, officials recommended the filing of criminal charges against those behind the mining operation for failure to seek a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and its attached agencies.

They should be charged with violation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, particularly theft of minerals, for extracting deposits without a valid permit, the document stated.

It was signed by Victor N. Cruje of the Provincial Environment and Management Office; Hernando S. Sulla of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office; and Francis Glenn N. Suante of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Region13.

Their recommendations came as a result of a fact-finding mission last April 25.

Gordonas identified the person supposedly taking charge of the mining operation, which started in Mt. Patag last March, as Engr. Alan Castillo, who could not be reached for comment.

Owing to the mining operation, 200 households in five puroks (sub-village) in Barangay Jubgan reportedly lost their access to potable water due to the alleged destruction of the watershed.

“The run-off water goes down to the streams and polluting the Bioborjan River and eventually goes down to the sea,” Gordonas claimed.

Fisherfolk in the village and neighboring coastal barangays have been protesting the mining operation as it allegedly causes the river to become murky every time it rains.

Residents identified the alleged financier of the mining operation as Rosemarie Velez, who could not also be reached for comment.

Engr. Rudy De Juan, a representative of Velez, said they have already spent at least P10 million for the mining operation.

De Juan, who appeared last May 6 at a technical conference of the MGB-13, said they have compensated landowners whose agricultural crops were cut down or uprooted as a result of their operations.

Felixberto Sual, Barangay Jubgan chairperson, told MindaNews that Surimin Mining Corp. was also allegedly behind the mining activities in the area.

He claimed that James Matugas, younger brother of Surigao del Norte 1st District Rep. Francisco Matugas, allegedly helped convince landowners to sign a document for the firm to operate in the area.

Last May 5, the Sangguniang Bayan of San Francisco town passed a resolution demanding Surimin Mining to stop its mining operations in the area.

Vice Mayor Edgar Plaza said that Surimin Mining, based on “verified reports,” has allegedly been extracting copper ore and has been cutting trees without the prior consent of local authorities and landowners.

But MGB-13 acting director Noli Arreza said the firm is still applying for an exploration permit.

He identified Elizabeth Matugas Abejo, a sister of Rep. Matugas and also a sister-in-law of Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas, as the owner of Surimin Mining.

This reporter tried but failed to get the side of James Matugas and Elizabeth Matugas Abejo. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)