No more mining operations in Tawi-Tawi’s Tumbagaan Island since 2015 – envi exec

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 17 January) —  Mining operations on Tumbagaan Island off Languyan, Tawi-Tawi which President Rodrigo Duterte during a Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 11, ordered suspended and its rehabilitation stepped, have actually stopped six years ago and has been undergoing progressive rehabilitation, an environment official in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao (BARMM) said.

Jonel Mohammad Monel, chief of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy (MENRE) in Tawi-Tawi, on Friday said mining operations on the 900-hectare island of Tumbagaan started in 2012 and ended in 2015, after the proponent extracted high-grade nickel ores from its 250-hectare tenement.

“There’s a progressive rehabilitation on the island but there’s been no mining operations there since 2015,” Monel told MindaNews in a telephone interview on Friday.

Tumbagaan Island, Tawi-tawi. Map courtesy of Google Maps

Monel said he made a five-minute presentation about Tumbagaan Island during the 50th Cabinet meeting presided by President Rodrigo Duterte on January 11 in Malacañang, upon the orders of MENRE Minister Abdulraof Macacua.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President gave the order for the suspension of mining on Tumbagaan Island during the Cabinet meeting on Monday.

“The President is very much concerned about reports that the island has been completely devastated as a result of mining operations in the area. The island has at this point, been mined out. And while rehabilitation efforts are underway, the President is issuing a directive to stop any and all mining in Tumbagaan Island, and to step up the rehabilitation of the area by planting more trees and other efforts of rehabilitation,” Nograles said.

Monel said that since the mining firm stopped extraction operations on the island six years ago, it has been conducting progressive rehabilitation of the mined out area.

The island is not forested but mostly barren and with the rehabilitation, it actually looks better now than before because the company planted trees there, he noted.

Previously uninhabited, the island now has a mosque, housing units, electricity and road networks out of the mining firms’ corporate social responsibility program, Monel said.

Mining players in Languyan

He said S.R. Languyan Mining Corporatio, which acquired a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) to conduct mining activities on Tumbagaan Island, entered into a mines operating agreement with Altawitawi Nickel Corp., which reportedly shipped at least 15 million wet metric tons (WMT) of high-grade nickel ore to China from Tumbagaan Island.

S.R. Languyan was registered with the Regional Board of Investments in 2014 with an investment of P520 million and a projected workforce of 650 individuals, records obtained by MindaNews showed. Its status as of July 2015, however, was not indicated.

For Altawitawi Nickel, it was registered with the RBOI in 2013 with an investment of P708 million and expected to generate 500 jobs. It had an active status as of July 2015, according to the RBOI list covering the period from 2012 to 2015.

There are two more mining companies registered in 2014 with the RBOI with operations in Languyan town. These are the Darussalam Mining Corp. and Pax Libera Mining, Inc., both with active status as of July 2015.

In 2018, the RBOI announced in a press release that it registered Mina Vida De Mindanao Corp. (MMC), with an investment of P940.5 million for a nickel mining project in Languyan town. The Mina Vida’s mining operation has a production capacity of 1.5 WMT nickel ore per year and is expected to generate 580 employment opportunities for the locality upon start of its commercial operations.

MMC was registered with the Securities Exchange Commission in July 2016 primarily to carry on the business of mining that Altawitawi Nickel started. The same year, Darussalam Mining and MMC entered into a mines operating agreement, with MMC acquiring the rights of Darussalam Mining.  MMC started exporting high-grade nickel ore in August 2017 covering 567 hectares of mineral claim, information posted on MMC’s website, https://infominavida.wixsite.com/mdmc, showed.

Monel said MMC did not operate on Tumbagaan Island but in Barangay Sikulis in another part of Languyan town, and stopped operations in 2019.

Ishak Mastura, RBOI chair, said the mining companies operating in Languyan town registered with the agency “for purposes of compliance and to be counted as investors in the region.”

He said there were no irregularities if the mining firms registered later after starting their venture.

According to him, the mining firms that registered with the RBOI were endorsed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“But no fiscal incentives were given to them, so no revenue losses to the government,” Mastura said.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesperson of the BARMM government, said late Thursday afternoon that they have not received any written order from Malacanang to stop mining on Tumbagaan Island.

“We will await the official document and (will make our moves) on the basis of that act. If there are issues to be discussed relating to it then we will bring it up in the appropriate mechanism for discussing issues between the national government and the Bangsamoro government, which is the IGRB,” Sinarimbo, also the Minister of the Interior and Local Government, said in a text message.

IGRB stands for the Intergovernmental Relations Body, which is tasked to build on points of cooperation between the national and Bangsamoro governments.

In a statement released late Thursday, MENRE Minister Macacua revealed that the issue on Tumbagaan Island was raised by Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front, during his meeting with Duterte in Davao City last January 4.

“We would like to assure our constituents that we will keep monitoring the rehabilitation status of the concerned mining firms in Tawi-Tawi and affected areas to ensure that we do not cause irreparable damage to our environment and communities,” Macacua said.

Macacua quoted the President as saying during the 50th Cabinet Meeting that “kung ako lang ang masusunod, ayaw ko talaga ng mining” (if my will is followed, I really don’t want mining).

The ministry said it will summon the mining companies in Tawi-Tawi to present the status of their operations there. The firms were not identified, however.

It also vowed to create a “performance evaluation and assessment team” that will conduct performance audits of mining companies vis-à-vis their approved environmental protection and enhancement plans, among others.

The existing multipartite monitoring team instituted to evaluate and assess the progress of rehabilitation efforts made by the mining companies will be strengthened as well to further reinforce their functions and duties, the MENRE statement said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)