CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 February) – Archbishop Antonio Ledesma reprimanded City Hall officials for maintaining a “business as usual” attitude on the destructive hydraulic mining in the hinterland villages here despite the risks it posed to the communities living downstream of Iponan River.
In his “strongest” homily since the Dec. 17 Sendong floods, Ledesma urged the local government of Cagayan de Oro to allow multi-sectoral environment monitoring teams to verify the effects of the illegal mining activities in the hinterland villages of Iponan River.
“It is unconscionable for city officials to adopt a business-as-usual attitude for mining permits to continue. At the very least multi-sectoral monitoring teams should be allowed to verify on the ground the effects of these mining activities, whether small-scale or large-scale,” Ledesma said.
Ledesma made the homily during the Mass at the St. San Agustine Cathedral Monday night during the opening of the two-day Bishops Forum on Typhoon Sendong here starting today (Feb. 14).
Sixteen bishops and 217 priests from all over the Mindanao are expected to attend the forum which will be held at the Xavier Estate Country Club Convention Center.
Ledesma, who also called for a total log ban, demanded from the city government a full disclosure of the identities of the mining firms, their allotted areas and contribution to the local economy.
The city government earlier said there are only two mining firms operating in Iponan but an opposition councilor disclosed that City Hall approved the mining licenses of nine firms using “special permits.”
Councilor Edgar Cabanlas identified the mining firms as Dinamet Mining Corporation, Yellow Stone Development Corporation, SNS Metal Trading Corp., White Pearl Asia Corporation, Perfect World Mining Corporation, Javez Hinterland Resources and Cagayan de Oro Finest Metals.
Cabanlas said aside from these firms, two individuals identified as Maria Victor Lagbas and Virgilio Agus were issued with “special permits” allegedly by Mayor Vicente Emano.
Daniel Belderoan, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region 10, said “special permits” were issued to these firms without Emano convening the City Mining Regulatory Board, a prerequisite of Presidential Decree no. 1899, the law governing small-scale mining.
PD 1899 mandates the city government or any local government unit to convene the regulatory board which is composed of the MGB director as chair, the local chief executive or his representative as vice-chair, a representative from non-government organizations, and two representatives from the mining sector.
Emano, for his part, questioned the MGB for not requesting to convene the regulatory board, adding he was not aware of PD 1899.
“Why did they (MGB) not file a complaint when I approved the permits?” Emano said in several radio interviews.
But Ledesma said aerial photos of the mining sites along Iponan River have indicated the irreversible damage made by the mining firms.
He said reports received by parishes in the hinterland villages of Iponan River revealed miners are using large-scale dynamite explosions and hydraulic pumps to loosen the soil for easier excavation, which are then loaded into trucks and brought to ports for shipment other countries.
“We have already experienced the disastrous effects of severe flooding [in the city] in January 2009 and December 2011,” Ledesma said.
A TV crew from GMA7 Northern Mindanao have filmed several “foreigners” believed to Koreans working on a barge extracting gold ore in one of the villages along Iponan River.
Bishop Elenito Galido of Iligan City cited the importance of the religious leaders’ gathering here, which also coincides with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, especially after what happened to this city and Iligan.
“Discussion should be made, especially on creating new steps in addressing disaster preparedness. We agree on Bishop Ledesma’s call…. We in Iligan can attest to the destruction of illegal logging,” Galido said. (Froilan Gallardo, with reports from Erwin Mascarinas / MindaNews)