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More than a year since the series of killings of anti-mining activists in Buguey town, Cagayan province, none of the suspects has been identified, and no case has been filed.
But environmentalists are blaming big businesses—Filipino, Korean and Chinese—that are mining magnetite in resource-rich Cagayan.They are also pointing the finger at the powerful Enrile family which they believe to be interested in magnetite mining in the province.
The anti-mining advocates who were shot and killed were, after all, no ordinary environmentalists. They were also supporters of Buguey Mayor and anti-mining advocate Ignacio Taruc who had challenged Rep. Jack Enrile (1st district, Cagayan) for the post of congressman of Cagayan’s first district.
Three anti-mining leaders were attacked on election month, May 2010. Two of them—Conrado Buenaflor and William Arzadon—were killed, while another, Adamson Arellano, survived.
Taruc himself was suspended by the Provincial Board around election time for alleged grave misconduct, oppression and grave abuse of authority. He was slapped with a preventive suspension order that was based on an administrative case filed by then Buguey vice mayor (and now mayor) Licerio Antiporda III.
Taruc has said the allegations against him were politically motivated. News reports quoted him as saying the suspension was “another move by the capitol and the Enriles to oppress me after I refused to give permission to the operation of mining in my town.”
But Congressman Enrile said he did not think that the killings were related to mining at all. In an interview with VERA Files, he said he has heard that personal grudge was behind the death of Gensun Agustin, the anti-mining activisit who was killed in March last year.
Enrile described those opposed to mining as “a minority” in the province. “Only a few don’t like mining,” he said.
He also declined to comment on Taruc’s allegations of political harassment, pointing out however that Taruc was “known” to have committed abuses.
Still, Enrile said he, too, was against mining. “My stand is no to all kinds of mining, even quarrying. It is an emotional issue and one that has been very controversial. Dapat itigil muna (There should be a moratorium) while we amend the law,” he said, adding that he was ready to support the Minerals Management Bill or House Bill no. 3763 being pushed by civil society organizations.
Since 2006, magnetite mining has become brisk business in many towns in Cagayan. According to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), 13,843 hectares of land along the coastal areas of Cagayan are covered with magnetite mining permits.
According to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), 13,843 hectares of land along the coastal areas of Cagayan are covered by magnetite mining permits.
Residents suspect that private and foreign companies are also engaged in mining along the 16-kilometer stretch of the Cagayan River but are doing this in the guise of river dredging.
The problem is that mining is prohibited in “onshore areas within 200 meters from the mean low tide level along the coast,” according to Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Administrative Order 2007-15, an amendment to the implementing rules of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
The DENR defines “onshore” as the “landward side” of bodies of water, including “submerged lands in lakes, rivers and creeks.”
There are those who believe that Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile owns a magnetite mining operation in Cagayan Valley.But there is no mining company listed in Enrile’s 2009 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
The Securities and Exchange Commission database, however, shows that three officials of the Enriles’ JAKA Group of Companies are directors and officers of Prime Circle Mining Corp., one of the mining firms operating in Cagayan.
Danilo Bautista, chairman of the board of Prime Circle, is senior executive vice president, chief finance officer, and a division head of the JAKA Group. Another division head, senior vice president Persevirando Lukban, is a member of the board of Prime Circle, while assistant vice president and legal division head Jose Domingo Tan is Prime Circle’s corporate secretary.
While confirming that the three officials in the mining companies are indeed with JAKA, Congressman Enrile said he himself has retired from that firm in 2002. He said he was not aware that these officials were involved in mining companies.
Enrile added that JAKA itself was not into mining. The company’s activities involve real estate, security service and distribution, he said.
In a text message sent by a member of his staff in answer to VERA Files’ query, Senate President Enrile said, “Prime Circle used to operate a quarry in Gonzaga, Cagayan and it did so upon the request of governors and mayors to have a cheaper source of rocks/aggregates for local requirements. “
He also said the company operated only for a brief period and is no longer in operation. “Prime Circle was never engaged in magnetite mining,” he said.
But documents from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR show that Prime Circle has an existing industrial sand and gravel permit in Gonzaga town, next to Lal-lo. It has also applied for an exploration permit for magnetite sand, based on another MGB document dated last October.
Another company conducting mining operations in Cagayan is Colossal Mining Co. (CMC) which holds three of the five exploration permits issued by the DENR in 2007. The permits cover 36,000 hectares of offshore magnetite iron ore sites and areas that cover almost half of Cagayan as well as parts of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.
CMC was found to have docked sea vessels in Cagayan and extracted 200 kilos of magnetite sand. No action was taken when communities reported this.
Meanwhile, a concerned resident of Gonzaga town disclosed that Lianxing Stone Carving Corp. has been issued a small-scale mining permit for black sand in late 2006 up to present.
Evelyn Giron-Lacambra, president of the Concerned Lal-loqueños against Illegal Mining (CLAIM), said she had written former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in September 2008 asking her to put a stop to the mining of the Cagayan River.
A cease-and-desist order was issued in October that year by the Region 2 office of the DENR against Wang Zhong Feng, president and chief executive of San You Philippines Mining Trade Ltd. Inc., for operating without an Environmental Compliance Certificate and a mining permit.
But the mining activists’ victory was short-lived. In the complaint she filed in January 2009 before the provincial government, Lacambra said while magnetite mining in the river was suspended, San You continued its manganese mining operations in Lal-lo.
It was another illegal operation, Lacambra said, as the company’s site in Sitio Zicunig is part of the Agtas’ ancestral domain, and the mining activity was conducted without Free and Prior Informed Consent as required by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.
And despite the cease-and-desist order, dredging operations in the banks of Lal-lo resumed in January 2009 because of the permit to operate issued by Gov. Alvaro Antonio and the business permit by then Mayor Maria Olivia Pascual, respectively.
In April 2009, however, then DENR Secretary Lito Atienza suspended magnetite mining operations in Buguey for operating within the 200-meter shoreline.
Lacambra and the rest of CLAIM sought the help of the Commission on Human Rights whose regional officers witnessed and even documented the actual mining operations.
But she said MGB regional director Mario Ancheta denied that mining activities were going on. Ancheta reported to the DENR that the sand extraction done by MV Min Fu Jian Hou, the vessel seen off Buguey in mid-October last year, was for “sampling purposes” only.
When MV Nam Yang 8, a North Korean vessel loaded with about 2,800 metric tons of magnetite, listed off the coast of Claveria, Cagayan, on Jan. 1, 2010, Ancheta explained in another report that the load was actually part of an old stock extracted by Jisan Mining, a Korean firm with a small-scale permit.
“There is no mining going on in Cagayan, and I am not aware of any shipment of magnetite sand that is coming out of Cagayan,” Governor Antonio said in the same news report.
But only in July of last year, six Chinese men were apprehended by the police while illegally extracting magnetite in Lal-lo. They were said to be employees of San You, according to reports by the Manila Times, Daily Tribune and the Philippine Star.
Last December, Lacambra said magnetite mining throughout the province has been put on hold.
Another source, however, said magnetite mining resumed on the first week of February.She said 10 Chinese boats are docked in Cagayan waters, this time with small-scale mining permits issued by the governor.
Huaxia Mining Co. obtained two permits for 20 hectares of magnetite sand mining in Batangan, Gonzaga last December. The facilities are already under construction, practically in front of the beach, a source said.
Last January, Lianxing Corp. reportedly exported black sand despite the ban in magnetite sand mining. Representatives of Lianxing Corp. replied that it exported old stocks.
Despite their own fears fueled by the deaths of anti-mining activists, about 2,000 people attended a protest rally on March 19 in Gonzaga town to oppose the grant of permits to Huaxia. The firm was reportedly operating within the 200-meter shoreline limit.
The protest, held right in front of the mining construction in Batangan, demanded the cancellation of the magnetite mining permit given to the Chinese company.The outrage of the protestors was not difficult to understand: the mining permits, in addition to having been given without consulting the affected community, covered the very homes in which they live.