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. 

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