5,000 mine workers protest closure of mining firms

CANTILAN, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews / 16 Feb) — Despite torrential rains, some 5,000 workers from different mining companies operating in Surigao del Sur staged a protest action Thurday urging Environment Secretary Gina Lopez and President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider closing the mining operations in the province as thousands of workers will lose their jobs.

Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente Pimentel Jr., and Cantilan Mayor Philip Pichay, whose families are into mining, and dozens of mining scholars joined the rally, along with Indigenous Peoples such as the Manobo and Mamanwa who are the recipients of multi-million royalty shares from the operations of mining.

PROTEST. At least 5,000 mine workers, IPs and scholars of mining firms stage a protest action in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur on Thursday, February 16, 2017 against Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’ order to close down mining companies including those in Cantilan and Carrascal towns. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

The protesters assembled at the grounds of the Surigao del Sur State University and marched to the town center and the plaza where they held a program.

Last week,  Environment Secretary Gina Lopez announced the closure and suspension of 28 mining companies in the country, 14 of them located in Dinagat and Surigao provinces.

Among those firms ordered closed are the Carrascal Nickel Corporation (CNC) and Clarence T. Pimentel Construction and Mining Corporation  in Carrascal; and the Marcventures Mining Development Corporation (MMDC) whose operations straddle Cantilan and Carrascal towns.

The three firms employ 5,156 workers — MMDC’s 2,100; CNC’s 1,807 and CTPs 1,249.

Mining firms nationwide  protested Lopez’ closure and suspension orders, prompting the convening of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) on February 9.

The MICC, co-chaired by Lopez and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, agreed to conduct a multi-stakeholder review on the performance of existing mining operations in the country.

The council was convened to address the issues on due process, unemployment and revenue loss for local and national government following Lopez’ closure and suspension orders issued to 28 mining firms.

“I leave it up to Gina”

President Rodrigo Duterte  has been supportive of Lopez’s order to close erring mining firms, and reiterated this support during his speech in Surigao City last Sunday, after flying over the mining areas en route to the city.

Duterte who visited Surigao City two days after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the city, said he was disheartened by the sight of denuded mountains and silted coastlines.

“Pahakpahak na ang mga kabukiran diri sa Surigao” (The mountains of Surigao have been destroyed), he told Surigaonons, among them representatives of mining companies who came to help out in the relief efforts.

“I leave it up to Gina. If she says that the mines should be closed, then I can do nothing about it,” Duterte said in his speech at the city auditorium.

The President acknowledged that the next problem would be workers affected by the closure.

On February 14, Lopez in a press conference at the Social Hall of her office in Quezon City announced she was cancelling 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) to protect the country’s watersheds. Of the 75 locate din watersheds, 37 are in Mindanao, 11 in Visayas and 27 in Luzon.

Lopez said she would give the companies “seven days to respond to the show cause order, after which we review their response and then we decide.”

She clarified that the cancellation would not result to job losses because “these are non-operating mines.

“Hindi iiwanan”

Leo Santos, a worker at the  Carrascal Nickel Corporation, told the crowd that if they lose their jobs, they would not know what to do to survive.

“We will be back to those days when we can’t afford to buy basic needs for our family. How could we meet ends if we lose our jobs?” he asked.

Lopez told MindaNews in a text message  that she will not leave the workers who will be displaced. “Hindi sila iiwanan. I have money to take care of them and stimulate a green economy. My people are on site planning now with everyone.

Ramon Arpellada, environmental supervisor of Claver Mineral Development Corporation in Claver, Surigao del Norte and Carrascal in Surigao del Sur said the abrupt closure of mining operations is “a form of social injustice.”

“We are contributing to the national wealth and the mining sector is contributing a lot in terms of economic values,” he said.

Worried scholars

Alexis Estampa, a mass communication student of Saint Paul University in Surigao led the mining-funded scholars in Surigao del Sur who joined the protest action.

He said the scholars are worried on the closure order as their education is at stake.

“We will not allow the mining operations to be stopped here, we will defy the closure order of Gina Lopez,” he said.

Alex Amadeo, vice-president for operations of Marcventures Mining Development Corporation told MindaNews they have at least 116 scholars.

Under a new ownership, MMDC has produced 40 graduates of different courses since 2013.

Datu Ala, Manobo tribal chieftain in Carrascal, admitted he is worried over the closure order.

“Just last December we received 8 million of royalty and we utilized that for livelihood, emergency fund, scholarship assistance, cash subsidy and tribal elders’ salary,” he said.

He said before mining operations started here, they ate frogs, ricefield rats and barely ate rice. But with the “entry of mining our lives has changed and we regained our pride and dignity,” he said.

Shutdown aftermath

Governor  Pimentel announced that mining companies here are operating within mineral lands.

He condemned anti-mining groups in Surigao del Sur who do not provide jobs and opportunities to residents.

Pimentel said if mining operations will be shut down criminality will rise and poverty will worsen. He said at least 6,000 jobs will be lost.

Cantilan town mayor Philip Pichay said there would be economic dislocation in his town.

“Imagine 500 to 600 million pesos annually from the workers circulating in the mother of the 1st district,” he said.

Pichay said he is preparing for the massive jobs loss but said the town cannot guarantee job replacements.

Cantilan used to be an anti-mining town during the term of  Mayor Genito Guardo. Last year, when Pichay won as mayor, he issued a business permit to the MMDC and his town got in return business tax of 25 million plus the back taxes during its early operations in the late 2000’s.  (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)