JUBGAN, San Francisco, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 11 November) — A mining firm has been extracting minerals in this barangay without a permit from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and despite the whole town having been declared as a no-mining zone in 2014.
San Francisco Mayor Val Pinat told MindaNews over the weekend that GoSun Siargao Waves Corp., which he said has a binding contract with another firm, Surimin, has not obtained a permit for its large-scale mining operations.
“They insisted on operating in the mountains and building a pier in Barangay Jubgan,” Pinat said.
He recalled that in 2014, when he was a vice mayor, the municipal council unanimously declared the whole town as a no-mining zone.
The declaration was triggered by the alleged illegal large-scale mining activity of Surimin disguised as a farm-to-market road project. But resistance by the residents forced the company to stop its operations.
On October 31, Pinat received several complaints from townsfolk on social media about the adverse effects of the firm’s operations.
The mayor cited that the mining activities have made the water coming from the upland villages murky and caused massive siltation in the sea.
MGB-Caraga regional director Larry Hernandez said Siargao Waves Corp. has a pending application to extract the residual mining waste or stockpile from the previous operations of Surimin.
He said they cannot issue a cease-and-desist order since the application has not been approved.
“Siargao Waves Corporation is an assignee of a portion of applied area of Surimin,” he said.
He added that Surimin’s exploration permit and Mineral Production Sharing Agreement had expired.
Documents from MGB-Caraga showed that Surimin is owned by Mayor Elizabeth Matugas of Dapa, Surigao del Norte. But Matugas, a sister of Governor Francisco Matugas, vehemently denied back then that she was involved in the operations in 2014.
Another brother, James Matugas, who passed away last year, headed Surimin’s operations in Jubgan. He and his workers fled after learning that authorities were on their way to the barangay to arrest them, as their operations lacked the necessary permits.
In 2014, Surimin’s illegal operations, according to MGB-Caraga, left the area destroyed.
MindaNews tried to contact Mayor Matugas on the issue but got no response.
“Farm-to-market road,” “fish port”
Last Saturday, several heavy equipment such as dump trucks, payloaders and backhoes were sent to Jubgan for Siargao Waves Corp.’s “farm-to-market road” and “fish port” projects.
Jubgan village chief Harry Amalla said the mining firm started operating early last month in response to the barangay’s request for the road.
He added they requested the heavy equipment from Assistant Provincial Administrator Ramon Gotinga for the road project, which he admitted is the same road that goes to the mining area.
Gotinga is one of the owners of Siargao Waves Corp.
Amalla said the company wanted to extract 100,000 cubic meters of iron ore, copper ore and other minerals in Mt. Patag located in Jubgan.
He said the wharf is intended as the loading area for the shipment of minerals, although the documents he showed to MindaNews indicated that the company is making a fish port.
He said that after the extraction of minerals the wharf will be turned over to the barangay which may use it for various purposes such as a fish port.
“The company is now employing 120 workers,” he added.
“We conducted last October 3, 2021 a public consultation in our barangay and majority of the people supported this undertaking,” Amalla said, referring to Siargao Waves Corp.’s operations.
He said they will support the company’s activities as long as it will deliver on the “farm-to-market road” and “fish port” projects.
He cited that these things happened after President Duterte lifted the ban on mining activities in the country, but said nothing about the company’s lack of permits.
“Okay man na ipakuha ang mine waste residue and stockpiles and things like that,” he said.
But barangay councilman Arcomwel Carbon told MindaNews that majority of the people in the village are against the mining operations.
“The list [of those who attended the consultation] isn’t reliable because the barangay manipulated it,” Carbon said.
“Those who said ‘yes’ were given three kilos of rice, one can of sardines and a pack of noodles,” he said.
He maintained that majority of the people are against the operations as they were already victimized in 2014.
“They have seen it in 2014, the adverse effects of their clandestine operations and now it surfaced again,” Carbon said, adding only two barangay council members are against the mining operations.
One of the villagers said their source of water is now affected by the mining operations.
“When there is rain, water becomes turbid aggravated by the operations. It’s not only that but the loss of biodiversity as well,” said the villager who requested not be named for fear of reprisal.
Several residents posted on social media that waters from the ridges down to the waterways and the seas had turned murky.
“This pollution is aggravated during the rainy season,” Carbon said.
He said armed men including military personnel are guarding the mining operations.
Major Jasper Gacayan, executive officer of 30th Infantry Battalion admitted that they protecting major investments in Jubgan while going after the rebels in in the area.
“It’s been there because there are series of atrocities around that area committed by the New People’s Army and we have the mandate to protect the people,” Cagayan said during the dialogue on Tuesday at the Catholic Church’s pastoral center in San Francisco.
The dialogue, initiated by the local government, was attended by officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and other agencies.
During the dialogue, Gotinga admitted they are building a road and a wharf in Jubgan.
PPA-Surigao manager Al Caturla said they have not issued any permit or document for the construction of a wharf in Jubgan.
Ruel Efren, Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer also said they have not issued any documents to Siargao Waves Corp. contrary to what’s being printed on posters along the national highway.
Gotinga said Surimin should be the one to secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate and other permits, as Siargao Waves Corp. is “only a buyer.” But he admitted that his company was the one that entered into a contract with Barangay Jubgan for the construction of the road and wharf.
He declined to reply when asked by MindaNews why they entered into such a contract and hastily proceeded with massive operations even without a permit.
Asked why the mining company is building roads and wharf, MGB-Caraga’s Hernandez said it is already outside their jurisdiction. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)