Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mangyans, mining and betrayal

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
COURAGE, HUMILITY AND COMPASSION. These, Bishop Broderick Pabillo prayed, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Lito Atienza would have so that he would correct his mistake.

Pabillo is chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace and auxiliary bishop of Manila. He was one of the hunger strikers who joined the Mangyans and priests of Mindoro to oppose large-scale mining in watershed and ancestral domain areas.
Two days into the hunger strike, the anti-mining protestors thought they had triumphed. They had earlier met with Atienza to urge him to cancel the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) that his office had issued to Intex Resources, a Norwegian mining company, last Oct. 14 despite strong and valid opposition from the community, the local government and the Catholic Church.

After the meeting with Atienza, a Mass of thanksgiving was held. Bishops Warlito Cajandig and Pabillo concelebrated with some 25 priests on the sidewalk fronting DENR. Arnan Panaligan and Josephine Sato, governors of Mindoro Oriental and Occidental respectively, as well as Alagad Party-list Rep. Diogenes Osabel, nuns and anti-mining advocates were present.

Moments later, they found out that they had been had. Atienza only suspended the ECC for 90 days. This meant that Intex could work a little harder to fulfill the supposed requirements and it would soon be back in the field.

Two days ago, a whole-page open letter to Atienza signed by Pabillo came out in the Inquirer. The bishop’s statement, with the backing of several Church institutions, questioned Atienza’s decision.

“We all felt betrayed,” Pabillo said. “If the ECC was acquired with irregularity, why should it be just suspended for 90 days? Is it not invalid, and being so, must be revoked? [I]n front of two provincial governors, several mayors, congressmen, priests, two bishops, DENR officials and several Mangyan leaders, you were emphatic about your allegiance to the law and your assurance to punish anyone in your office who does not abide by the law.”

What happened here? Only Atienza knows. And so the hunger strikers are still camped out in front of the DENR.

The Mangyans and anti-mining advocates have been protesting the proposed nickel mining project that would cover 11,218 hectares and span four towns in Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, including the ancestral domain of Alangan and Tadyawan Mangyans.

In 2005, Mindoro Oriental’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan passed an ordinance declaring a 25-year moratorium on mining activities. The mining project will span four towns: Victoria, Pola and Socorro in Oriental Mindoro and Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro. It is expected to produce 100 to 120 million tons of ore over a period of 15 to 20 years. Mindoro’s nickel laterite deposit is believed to be one of the biggest in the world.

Mindoro Island, home of the Mangyans, is the country’s fourth largest rice-producing area with P12 billion worth of annual agricultural income.

Panaligan told the Inquirer, “We realize that this is not the end. We have to refocus and fight to show this project has no social acceptability.” Social acceptability is one of the requirements for the issuance of an ECC.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez of Alyansa Laban Sa Mina and Mangyan Mission said of the 90-day suspension, “DENR is merely asking Intex to complete their papers. We want an investigation.”

Former Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez was said to have opposed the Mindoro mining project and refused to issue an ECC after seeing for himself the watershed area where the project would operate.

Inquirer sources showed documents to prove that the issuance of the ECC for Intex had been “fast-tracked,” allegedly by fiat “from above,” in order “to ensure optimum economic growth without delay.”

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) system had also been simplified. This was the reason Intex got an ECC without wide consultations with communities, the sources said.

According to the Ateneo-based Simbahang Lingkod Bayan, “the large scale mining operations of Intex Resources... may bring about the destruction of a contiguous watershed and that can lead to the displacement of several indigenous Mangyan communities in Oriental Mindoro.”

I dread a Marinduque-like mining disaster that would wreak havoc on the mountains, the seas and countless human and wild life.

Mindoro is included in a detailed study on mining in Mindoro, Sibuyan Island and Mindanao, “Philippines: Mining or Food,” (2008) commissioned by several international development agencies, including Misereor of the Catholic Bishops of Germany. The study was done by Robert Goodland, environmental scientist specializing in economic development, and Clive Wicks, engineering, agriculture and environmental specialist, with the UK-based Working Group on Mining in the Philippines. The study concluded: “Intex and all mining companies should comply with the mining moratoria... The Intex Mindoro Mining Project, and the other 91 mining applications being considered for the tropical island, would damage most of the water catchment area and the possibility of sustainable food production in the foreseeable future of Mindoro.”

I have been to Mangyan territories a number of times. The hardy and gentle Mangyans are close to my heart. They still adhere to their age-old traditions, but they are no longer the push-overs that lowlanders thought them to be. They are now proudly reviving the use of their syllabic script. A Mangyan college student taught me how to write my name in Mangyan syllabic script.