No new jobs for displaced workers if mining firms are closed — Caraga officials

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/06 March) — Workers who will be displaced by the impending closure of 14 large-scale mining companies in Caraga will face the difficulty of finding new jobs, three governors and some mayors in the region said.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez has ordered the closure of several mining firms across the country based on audit findings that they failed to comply with regulations under the 1995 Philippine Mining Act.

At least 3,000 anti-mining protesters hold a rally in Surigao City on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in support to Environment Secretary Regina Lopez’s decision to close 14 mining firms in Caraga Region. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente Pimentel, Dinagat Governor Glenda Ecleo and Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas all said there are no jobs available in their respective provinces for the thousands of workers that will be displaced.

Pimentel said the closure might lead to a resurgence in crimes and other social problems.

He said that in Carrascal town where he used to be the mayor highway robbery, dynamite fishing, and unemployment, among others, were addressed by the the presence of mining companies operating in the province.

“Kon naay mga tulisan nga naminaw unaha ang mga kaparian kay mao kanay nagpasiugda nga maundang ang mina (If there are robbers listening, go after the priests first because they’re the ones campaigning to stop mining),” he told reporters.

“Is there a commandment from the Pope, God or the Bible that we stop mining and cause hardships among the people?” he said in the vernacular.

He said Carrascal Nickel Corporation owned by Antonio Co will put up a 1.2-billion dollar nickel processing plant. Co is operating several mining companies in the Philippines.

Dinagat Islands Governor Glenda Ecleo who attended a pro-mining rally in San Jose town in Dinagat on February 23 voiced her opposition to the closure of mining firms in the province.

Though she failed to answer questions due to hearing problem, Vice Governor Benglen Ecleo who frequently served as acting governor said in an online interview that the closure would be an economic disaster.

Dinagat has imposed a controversial soil depletion tax on mining operations that has earned millions of pesos for the province.

“Even if we switch to ecotourism, it would take years to develop the industry. Right now the province just finished crafting our tourism plan,” he said.

“Definitely we are still in shock of the decision of the secretary. That’s why the governor sent asking for audience with our provincial officials as to what will be her moves to help Dinagatnons to cope up with this massive loss of jobs. We are waiting up to this moment for her reply,” he added.

The vice governor stressed that they don’t have job placements yet for the would-be displaced workers, and they are hoping President Duterte can help them.

Matugas said her province has no jobs to offer for thousands who will be displaced from the mining sector.

Three mining firms in Surigao del Norte were ordered closed.

DENR Secretary Regina Lopez speaks before residents and local leaders of mining host communities in Caraga during the dialogue in Butuan City on February 25, 2017. She told participants to prepare for a “green economy” in their communities. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Matugas called mining companies that failed to pass the DENR audit dumb, saying they did not care for the environment.

“It’s because they did not observe responsible mining. Others passed, the others failed. Why did they fail? They’re idiots,” said the governor who was a former regional director of the Department of Education.

“They don’t care. They played dumb even if they know how. Why did Taganito Mining Corporation and Greenstone Resources Corporation pass [the audit]? Why can’t PGMC and the others pass when responsible mining is simple,” she said in the vernacular.

In Surigao del Norte, the companies ordered closed by DENR are Platinum Group Metals Corporation, Claver Mineral Development Corporation, Andama Mining Resources Inc., all located in Claver town and Hinatuan Mining Resources Corporation in Taganaan town. These companies are extracting nickel ore and shipping it out in China.

Aside from the closure order, Lopez in a press conference at her office in Quezon City announced on February 14 she was canceling 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) to protect the country’s watersheds. Of the 75 MPSAs located in watersheds, 37 are in Mindanao, 11 in Visayas and 27 in Luzon.

Duterte who visited Surigao City two days after a 6.7-magnitude 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 denuded), he told Surigaonons, among them representatives of mining companies who came to help in relief efforts.

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

Dulmar Raagas, president of Chamber of Mines-Caraga earlier said they will seek legal remedies to the government crackdown against mining firms.

“If we can’t get fair decision, we go to court and let the proper forum settle the issue,” he said.

Late last week Duterte announced he wanted to review the closure order.

Aside from the three governors, several town mayors whose communities host large-scale mining companies are against the closure.

Cantilan, Surigao del Sur mayor Philip Pichay said he does not favor the closure order saying it will mean millions of pesos lost for the local government units and several businesses.

“I can’t imagine around 500-600 million pesos annually from the mine workers’ wage circulating the mother town of Cantilan will be lost,” he told MindaNews.

Pichay’s brother owns Claver Mineral Development Corporation in Surigao del Norte.

Dinagat Islands mayors Allan Ecleo I of Basilisa town and Lamberto Lamera Jr. of Libjo, and Casar Diaz Jr. of Taganaan, Surigao del Norte) are against the mining closure.

They said it will only increase poverty incidence and reduce opportunities.

“Local government units are dependent on mining taxes. If mining closure will prevail, Dinagat as a province will be lost and we will be back in the fold to Surigao del Norte because our income will not be sufficient for the province to exist,” they said.

The mayors told reporters the mining closure will only increase poverty incidence and lack of opportunities.

The three provinces have issued resolutions to stop the confirmation of Lopez as DENR secretary by the Commission on Appointments.

Dinagat and Surigao provinces have passed resolutions asking Duterte to lift the closure order.

Lopez told participants during the community consultation and engagement held in Butuan City last February 25 that she is offering a “green economy” to host communities that will replace the jobs that will be lost.

Anti-mining individuals said the governors and town mayors who opposed the closure order have no concern for the environment and economy.

“If they are really concerned they should support Gina Lopez’s order and build greener economy,” former Surigao City councilor Edgar Canda said.

Canda said the country is blessed with minerals but the mining industry only benefits a few.

“We can mine it but there should be downstream industries built around mining communities for national industrialization, not ship it out to China and foreign countries. They are raping the mountain and our natural resources,” he added.

Pio Mercado, chairperson of Caraga Watch said they fully support Lopez’s decision.

“We stand with her as she remains steadfast in the face of attacks against her and her decision by these mining companies. These mines have been operating for more than a decade, profited billions, yet spent so little to mitigate the damage to the region’s environment and it’s people,” he said in a statement.

Protesters cite the effects of mining during a rally in Surigao City on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in support to Environment Secretary Regina Lopez’s decision to close 14 mining firms in Caraga Region. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

He said the mining companies have the temerity to say that they will file cases against the Philippine government for the loss of profit when they have amassed billions upon billions of profit from their operations, doubling their capital many times over.

“This shows their insatiable greed for profit,” he said.

“Sec. Lopez’s decision to close these abusive mines and cancel MPSAs in watershed areas [sic] is long overdue. These mines would have remained open if they followed environment standards in their operations, if they did not destroy watershed areas [sic], rivers and coastal areas,” he said.

Roger de Dios, regional director of Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau-Caraga told MindaNews in an text message that 14 mining companies have already sent their appeal to the president.

“Some did made an appeal to the president, some filed legal remedy in court,” he said. (Roel N. Cattoto/MindaNews)