300 environmental activists headed by Zambales local people’s organization Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz (CCOS) will march from Zambales to Mendiola from April 29 to April 30 to call on the provincial and national government to stop the mining activities in the province.
The caravan will start in Sta. Cruz, Zambales and will end in Mendiola for a protest that will be followed by an environmental concert.
Among the caravan’s stops are Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region 3, DENR National Office, Commission on Human Rights and Office of the Ombudsman.
“We demand accountability from the national government in its continued indifference to the plight of the people and neglect of the environment.” said Dr. Ben Molino, Chairperson of CCOS.
“We demand from the government to not only reverse the lifting of the suspension but to call for the total cancellation of existing mining contracts and filing of administrative and civil charges against responsible government officials.” asserted Molino.
In July 15, 2014, due to findings of violations to mining procedures and policies and environmental destruction by the MGB and continued protests and resistance by the people of Sta. Cruz, DENR-MGB issued a suspension order to Benguet Mining Corp. Inc. (BNMI), Eramen Minerals Inc. (EMI), Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation/DMCI, DMCI, Eramen Minerals Inc., and Filipinas Mining Corp/LAMI.
Hauling operations of BNMI and EMI were suspended earlier by the Environment and Management Bureau due to findings of air pollution and destruction of roads brought about by unregulated hauling operations.
The suspension orders were issued as the investigation team commissioned by DENR-MGB gathered evidence pointing to tremendous ecological impact, loss of livelihood of farmers and fishers, and destruction of major road infrastructures due to mining operations.
However, in December 3, 2014, DENR Region 3 issued an ore transport permit justifying the move as a necessary step for the companies to rehabilitate and compensate the affected communities to prevent disaster. Yet the suspension orders are still in effect.
In February 10 and 25, DENR Region 3 lifted the suspension orders of the mining companies despite the companies’ failure to rehabilitate the documented damages and deliver full compensation to the affected communities.
“Zambalenos have been fighting to protect and preserve our environment and livelihood for a very long time now. If the government and mining companies think that we will back down because of what they have done, they are sadly mistaken.” said Molino.
Aside from townsmen coming from 15 barangays in Zambales, the caravan will also be joined by members of the Mining Workers for Environment Association (MWEA), a local group from Zambales’ mining workforce to push environmental, and business and human rights issues.
Meanwhile, national environmental organizations AlyansaTigil Mina (ATM), Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Philippine Misereor Partnership Incorporated (PMPI) and Aniban ng Manggagawa sa Agricultura (AMA) showed their full support to the 2-day caravan.
“These acts of the Zambales local officials, MGB and DENR both at the regional and national levels shows their indifference to the rights of the farmers and the community, as well as food security, just to serve the interest of the extractive industry.” said Rene Dela Cruz, National President of AMA.
“This has to be stopped to be able to ensure that the people of Zambales will not suffer from greater economic devastation.” he added.
“The mining companies were suspended for a reason and that reason is environmental destruction and the damages it brought to the livelihood of the affected communities.” said Primo Morillo, advocacy officer of PMPI.
“Up until now, several hundreds of farmers and fisherfolks are struggling to get back on their feet because of the damages brought by these mining companies.” he added.
In a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on right to food, ATM CCOS claimed in an impact assessment that Sta. Cruz, Zambales is losing at least 8,000 tons of palay production annually worth Php 200-million,an estimated loss of Php 20-million from fish production in three (3) major rivers and at least Php 30-million loss from fish production in at least 100-hectares of fishpond because of mining in the area.
Aside from the economic impacts mining has brought in Zambales, the organizations also emphasized the ecological downside of the operations in the area.
“The Philippines is consistently included in the list of the most vulnerable countries to impacts of climate change. And as shown in our previous experience in Pablo and Yolanda, mining exacerbates the impacts of climate change and with our current mining policies the country will only be more susceptible to climate disasters.” said Val de Guzman, energy campaigner of PMCJ.
“The rehabilitation and compensation efforts of the mining companies are inadequate and incomplete, and does not justify the lifting of the suspension orders, so there is no compelling reason for the government to lift the suspension orders”,said Jaybee Garganera, National Coordinator of ATM.
“We call on MGB, DENR and the Office of the President to uphold the suspension orders until such time full rehabilitation and complete compensation is covered. This is the only way that government can prove it can effectively implement our mining policies and that its regulatory powers are effective.” he concluded.