By Madonna Virola
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 17:10:00 10/31/2009
CALAPAN CITY, Philippines—(UPDATE 2) About 5,000 demonstrators carrying mock coffins marched through downtown Calapan City to protest Environment Secretary Lito Atienza’s “railroaded” issuance of an environmental clearance to a Norwegian mining project on Mindoro island.
Priests came in their cassock Friday bearing “No to Mining” placards as local executives, including Oriental Mindoro Governor Arnan Panaligan, joined students, professionals and farmers in condemning the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for issuing the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to Intex Resources Corp on October 14.
"The mock funeral is symbolic of the people of Mindoro's contempt for the seemingly comatose process by which the DENR railroaded the issuance of the ECC," said Father Edwin Gariguez, spokesman of the multisectoral Alyansa Laban sa Mina (Alamin, Alliance Against Mining).
One of the coffins bore the name and photo of Atienza.
Gariguez said Atienza issued the ECC “despite the lack of ‘social license’ from the local governments.”
Both the provinces of Oriental and Occidental have separately issued a moratorium on large-scale mining on the island.
The project, which covers 11,216.6 hectares, 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.
Four towns will be covered by the project—Victoria, Pola and Socorro in Oriental Mindoro and Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro.
The national anti-mining network Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM, Alliance to Stop Mining) called for Atienza’s ouster, saying the former Manila mayor committed “dreadful acts” in giving the go-ahead signal for the project.
“The approval and issuance of the ECC is premature and short of procedural and substantial requirements particularly on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, considering that the Review Committee has not come up with its recommendation when Secretary Atienza issued the ECC,” said ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera.
“Secretary Atienza should be ousted for his dreadful acts. It is horrific and ironic for a DENR secretary to consistently favor big mining companies over the conservation and preservation of environment, which provides benefits the Filipino people more rather than mining,” said Garganera.
Coffins marked with the Intex logo and photos of Atienza were paraded during the march.
Gariguez said Atienza “railroaded” issued the ECC on October 14 as a large part of Metro Manila was submerged in floodwaters spawned by tropical storm Ondoy (international codename: Ketsana).
"These calamities should have prompted Secretary Atienza to think twice before granting the ECC to Intex, considering that Mindoro is an island province with very fragile ecosystems," said Gariguez.
The DENR has allowed Intex to extract nickel ore even in areas identified as a critical watershed of the Mag-asawang Tubig and Bucayao River systems, he added. Gariguez said the mining project encroaches on the largest source of irrigation water for the 40,000 hectares of rice lands in Calapan City, and the towns of Naujan, Baco and Victoria.
Sablayan, meanwhile, is one of the major rice- and corn-producing areas in Occidental Mindoro and any major mining operations would greatly affect the agriculture production and endanger social economic conditions in the area, he said. The town’s 22 villages and its Sangguniang Bayan have separately issued resolutions opposing the project.
Mindoro is considered as Metro Manila’s food basket.
But Intex spokesperson lawyer Ben delos Reyes said that the protesters failed to present their arguments against the project during public hearings. "I promise to look into their concerns," he said.
Intex had said it would spend as much as $2.9 billion to put up a high-pressure acid leach facility within the site of its Mindoro nickel mine.
The company’s plant would be built in two stages: the first will process limonite ore and the second, the saprolite resource, Intex president and CEO Erlend T. Grimstad said last year.
Grimstad said the capacity of the processing plant during the first stage would run up to about 40,000 tons of nickel and 3,000 tons of cobalt a year. At Stage 2, the facility would produce another 40,000 tons of nickel and an additional 700 tons of cobalt a year, he said.