Duterte backs Sec. Lopez on Surigao mines closure

President Duterte talks to Suriganons during his visit Sunday (12 Feb 2017) to console victims of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake. In his speech, he said he is supporting Environment Secretary Gina Lopez's move to close down mining firms violating environment laws. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Feb) – President Rodrigo R. Duterte is supporting Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s order to close erring mining firms, particularly those in the Surigao provinces.

Duterte, who was in the city Sunday to console victims of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake, said he was disheartened by the sight of denuded mountains and silted coastlines during a flyby en route here.

“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.

He said he already instructed Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas to prepare for potential massive jobs loss, but added that the government might have to help find alternative jobs for affected workers once the closure order will be enforced.

President Duterte arrives in Surigao City via helicopter, where he saw for himself the ruined mountains of Surigao due to mining. Malacañang photo

According to the Caraga Chamber of Mines, 30,000 workers will be affected if the 14 mining firms in the region would be closed. But data from Mine and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) show that the number is less than half – only 13,090 direct jobs.

Of the 14 mining firms found to be violating environment laws and ordered closed by Lopez, seven are in Dinagat Island, four in Surigao del Norte and three in Surigao del Sur.

Duterte promised to help find another source of income for the people of Surigao, especially now that some investors have come in.

He said the government is offering small and medium livelihood programs for people who will be affected by the expected massive job loss. This, Duterte said, will be undertaken by the Department of Trade and Industry.

MGB regional director Roger de Dios said they have not yet served the closure order against the 14 mining companies in the region.

Anti-mining protesters in the Surigao provinces expressed elation upon hearing the President’s words against mining companies.

“Mura’g dili ko kaginhawa sa kalipay” (I’m so happy, I’m breathless), said Emma Hotchkiss, one of the anti-mining protest leaders in Cantilan town in Surigao del Sur. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)