Quezon City, Philippine – Six weeks into the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, couple of Chinese vessels arrived at the Philippine shores to load coal from mining communities with the approval of the Department of Energy (DOE).
After the incident in Homonhon, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, the Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique, another island community is again at risk of the spread of coronavirus 2019 as another Chinese vessels, this time by the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation (SMPC), docked to load coal mines from the island.
This is amidst the issuance of the Antique Provincial Executive Order No. 40-A barring the use of its port for the transport of coal except for the collection of “i. cement to be used by contractors for DPWH projects only; and ii. Medical equipment, medicines, and other essential goods.”
In a text message, Bong Sanchez of Save Antique Movement (SAM) said,“Despite the DOH confirmation that there are already persons who tested positive for COVID-19 in the island, the LGU-Caluya and the Provincial Government of Antique failed to stop the entry of these vessels to service SMPC in the name “energy security”. And this despite the standing issuances of the Municipality of Caluya as well as the Province of Antique social distancing and transport of essential goods in the island.” These actions are clear subversion of the of the local government’s will and violation of the peoples’ right to health.” Sanchez added. He also said, ” But more than this, with the vessel of SMPC in the shores of Semirara Island, the Provincial Executive Order only applies the people of Antique, but not to migrant workers of the mining company, said Sanchez.”
Currently, four (4) Semirara residents have already tested positive for COVID-19 and 45 people are under monitoring according to the Department of Health (DOH).
SMPC, owned by the Consunji’s, is considered the biggest coal company in the Philippines. Last year, it was suspended for two months due to a landslide incident last July 2019 which claimed the lives of 9 workers. Prior incidents of landslides likewise happened during its operations on 2013 which killed 5 of its workers and another in 2015 which killed 9 workers.
Mel Asia, PMPI Project Officer for PMPI’s Anti-Mining Campaign, reacting said “SMPC must have been trying to compensate and recover for their losses due to their suspension brought about by the landslide. But, what can you expect from a company, which by its history has sacrificed the safety and lives of its workers to earn profit? The Provincial EO No. 40-A is clear. No vessel can collect any raw material from the island, except cement. The law does not exempt Chinese vessels out to transport coal from Semirara Island. The national laws, especially in the context of a humanitarian crisis, should not exempt businesses. They are even called to express compassion to the plight of the people and the environment.”
DENR Environmental Paradigm should change
According to Yoly Esguerra, National Coordinator of the Philippine Misereor Partnership , Inc. (PMPI), “what is happening now in Semirara Island is the same thing that has happened in Homonhon Island – that while the National Government has been strongly emphasizing on the need to work together to flatten the curve by social distancing and staying put in our homes to manage the COVID-19 spread, DENR Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Department of Energy (DOE) sit idly by and allow the mining sectors to do their “business as usual”.
Ms. Esguerra added, “that while we recognize the need to put some safeguards to the economy, the government needs first and foremost to protect its people and the environment. A more strategic and calibrated plan to revive our economy should be developed factoring in not only the stress by natural calamities but health emergencies. The DENR most specially must rethink its framework of environmental protection that is more sustainable as studies reveal that most of the diseases induced by virus come from animals and the wild.
The group also calls on the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and the national government to strictly implement its rules in stopping the contagion without giving favor to big businesses. They call on the local government units (LGUs) to assert their right to implement faithfully all their policies related to safeguarding the health rights of the community they represent.
“Lastly, we appeal to government to become a “government for people and for the environment”. We implore the DENR to review its environmental protection paradigm and take the lead in ensuring that the primary source of the diseases, the wild or the forests, be harnessed to ensure that a pandemic of this magnitude will never happen again,” the group added.
Vigilant Homonhon Islanders, stops loading of Techiron vessel from China
Quezon City, Philippines – Concerned residents of Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, one of the many islands hit by Typhoon Yolanda, through their barangay captains, blocked-off the entry of a vessel from China.
The vessel named MV “VW Peace”, flying a Panamanian Flag, manned by Chinese and Myanmar crew is reported to have come from Macau but temporarily docked in Davao for a few days and is supposed to proceed to Cantilado Pier in Homonhon Island based on documents collected. With this, the island’s eight (8) barangay captains immediately issued a joint resolution banning entry of MV “VW Peace” to Homonhon Island.
According to Yoly Esguerra, National Coordinator of the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), “the resolution is a good sign that even in a time of pandemic, the eight (8) barangay leaders, the Municipal Government of Guiuan, and the Provincial Government of Eastern Samar have worked together in decisively weighing the importance of their community-members’ health rights over mining. That the people are united in asserting their health rights sends a flicker of hope amidst the sea of chaos and loss for many in Luzon are troubled by COVID-19 pandemic, they are all united in asserting their health rights.”
Gov. Ben Evardone communicated the said issue to USec. Mitch Cuna of to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and said that the docking of the ship carrying foreign crew and transporting of ore, will violate the both the national and prevailing Provincial Government’s Executive Order on enhanced community quarantine that prohibits mass gatherings. Meanwhile, Mayor Annaliz Gonzales-Kwan mobilized the local PNP and Philippine Coast Guard to bar the foreign vessel from docking into the island.
Fr. Christian Ofilan, Priest at St. John the Baptist Parish in Homonhon Island earlier raised concern over the said vessel and appealed to concerned government officials not to allow the loading of mine ores in the island for the sake of “common good, our health” he said.
“The Joint Baranggay Resolution dated 6 March 2020 bans the entry of strangers into the island, parallel to the National Government’s effort to fight-off the spread of COVID-19”, said Carmi Macapagao, a resident of Homonhon Island and field officer of PMPI’s Project Pagbangon. She added, “Homonhonanons are grateful that Hon. Ben Evardone prioritized our health over a mining corporation and made efforts to notify DENR regarding this development.
Mr. Wenifredo O. Gapate Jr. from Brgy. Pagbabangnan, is one the signatories of the Barangay Joint Resolution, said, “The mining companies, out of greed to gain more profit acts like a thief in the night, attacking the people while sleeping. But they made the wrong move, despite many concerns due to the broadening of COVID-19 infection, we are forever vigilant. He added, “We will continue to monitor movement of these mining companies. We intend to boot them out of the island because they are destroying our home and are robbing our children of their future.”
Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar is historical site tied to Magellan’s first landing in the Philippines back in 1521 and home to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed and Critically Endangered Philippine Cockatoo.
Homonhon Island along with its neighbor Manicani Island and the entire Province of Eastern Samar are covered by Provincial Ordinance No. 09, series of 2005 that prohibits large-scale mining in the entire Eastern Samar Province.
FO-SOS members with Bishop Cerilo Casicas of the Diocese of Marbel (4th from left) and Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of the Diocese of Kidapawan (3rd from right). Photo by Kale Luaton.
Kidapawan, South Cotabato – Amidst the global push for countries to take seriously the call to declare climate emergency, mining affected communities in the Philippines met and dialogued with some Mindanao Bishops on the issues and problems brought about mining operations in their areas and the need to protect environment.
“We are gathered today amidst our struggle to protect our common home against corporate greed causing massive environmental destruction. And while we struggle separately in each of our communities against the impact of mining, we recognize that our struggle is very much connected with one another and with nature, and our efforts to protect our common home should be done with a sense of urgency", said Rene Pamplona of the Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice (CIEJ) during his welcome remarks as host to the the bi-annual conference of the mining affected communities and their partner NGO organized by the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI).
Participants of the said Conference are from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. It is held twice a year as part of PMPI’s commitment to build strong linkages with local communities and Dioceses. The event was organized at the heart of the City of Koronadal in South Cotabato, and made more relevant with the participation of Most Rev. Cerilo Casicas, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Marbel and Most Rev. Jose Colin Bagaforo, D.D. Bishop of the Diocese of Kidapawan.
During the dialogue between mining affected communities, Bishop Bagaforo expressed deep commitment to take on the issues of mining-affected communities within the church. He said, “…the role of the Social Action Center from Dioceses for the protection the environment is more important now than ever before.”
Bishop Bagaforo is the newly elected Chairperson of the Ecumenical Commission for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference or commonly known as CBCP NASSA/Caritas Philippines – the social development arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
Bishop Casicas stressed “The work for justice and the work for the protection of the creation appears to us as constitutive to our work on evangelization.” He further said that, in Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter – Laudato Si – the Church has already made it's choice to work for the protection of our common home. Further, he highlighted that the Catholic Church’s work on the care for our common home and for the protection of the environment rests not only on the bishops and the clergy, but on the laypersons as well. He said that empowering communities should be a primordial concern of the civil society groups.
"Mine-Free Palawan and Nueva Viscaya - A bold move against Environmental Impunity"
Quezon City - "In an environment of impunity, not only against humans but the environment, the passage of bills in the House of Representatives seeking to free the Third District of Palawan and the Province of Nueva Viscaya is a welcome development. It highlights the urgency of protecting bio-diversity of these two areas, and a recognition of the weakness of our current legal system to truly protect the environment. Thus another layer of legislations to protect both provinces are needed", said Yolly Esguerra, National Coordinator of the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI).
We believe that the passage of these Bills is a step forward for the cause of the environment and a hallmark legislation - in a time of wholesale and wanton destruction of rural communities’ traditional source of livelihood, and Indigenous Communities way of life, as our lawmakers sit on many environmental bills especially in the House of Representatives.
"These bills give hope to many local communities threatened by mining contracts. It will further strengthen the position of the LGUs of South Cotabato as well as the Highland and Lowland communities that will be affected by the proposed Tampakan Copper and Gold Project of the conglomeration Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI), as the project is poised to affect the Ancestral Domain of B'laans and farmers and water irrigators’ association of South Cotabato”, stated Rene Pamplona of the Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice (CIEJ) of Korondal, South Cotabato.
There are still pending mine-free bills currently pending in the House of Representatives being sought for passage by communities of Marinduque Province, the Municipality of Kibungan, Benguet, and Davao Oriental Province to list a few.
"PMPI supports the passage of the abovementioned bills and other mine-free bills pending in the lower house of Congress as they are solid examples of what our representative politicians should be doing - instead of concerning themselves with how much pork barrel should they receive from the national budget", said Mel Asia, Project Officer for PMPI's Anti-Mining Campaign.
Representatives Gil Acosta of Palawan, and Rodrigo Abellanosa of Cebu City (for HB 8816) and with Luisa Lloren Cuaresma of Nueva Viscaya (for HB 8951) deserve commendation for these bold initiatives, as these legislations seek to end environmental impunity caused by malpractices of erring mining corporations. House Bill 8816 and House Bill 8951 will ban all forms of mining in the Third District of Palawan and the Municipality of Aborlan, as well as the entire province of Nueva Viscaya. This is a victory for the people and the all the living creatures in the island of Palawan considered one of our few remaining ecological sanctuary, and for Nueva Viscaya being a major producer of agricultural products and citrus fruits. A bold step against large-scale destruction of biodiversity.
PMPI is network of some 250 civil society organizations across the Philippines advocating for the protection of people’s rights especially in small communities and the rights of the environment.
“We will pursue hard to lobby for a bill that sought to give legal rights to the environment this coming 18th Congress even if it takes decades to finally pass it,” Esguerra added.
2019: Another challenging year for Battle-scarred Mining Communities and Environmental Defenders
We, from the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI) along with our partner-communities struggling to halt active mining operations in their areas and demanding rehabilitation for abandoned mines, see 2019 as another challenging year in our battle against destructive mining.
During the Holidays, DENR Undersecretary Analiza was jovial announcing that a robust mining industry is in the horizon come 2019 with reference to possible lifting of moratorium on the issuance of new mining permits given the passage of House Bill 8400, a new mining law rationalizing mining industry fiscal regime.
“How ironic,” said PMPI National Coordinator Yoly R. Esguerra. “How can the DENR Undersecretary be happy about possible upsurge of mining activities that destroy people, culture and environment, when she is from an agency that supposed to protect the environment.
House Bill 8400, An Act Establishing the Fiscal Regime for the Mining Industry shepherded by Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is sadly the first of the few signs that indeed 2019 will become an excellent year for mining companies, undeniably a backdrop of growing aggression against communities and the natural environment. Add to this is the planned TRAIN Law II or the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion dubbed as "TRABAHO" Law, purportedly seeking further rationalization and increase in revenue for the government.