Gov’t cancels Sibuyan mine permit
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has canceled the permit of Altai Philippine Mining Corp. to explore resources on Romblon’s Sibuyan Island, after the town mayor warned it would disrupt the island’s biodiversity and livelihood.
Leo Jasareno, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), on Tuesday said he had issued a cease and desist order against the company, which is exploring the island’s mineral reserves.
The island has the world’s densest forest and is home to flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else, scientists said.
Sibuyan has been called Asia’s Galapagos Island. Since it is isolated from the rest of the Philippine archipelago, its plants and animals have evolved differently from the species in other provinces.
The Galapagos is an archipelago of volcanic islands west of Ecuador. Its vast number of endemic species, not found anywhere else on earth, inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Altai Mining, a joint venture between Canadian and Philippine firms, had been given a permit to explore nickel in a 1,580-hectare area at the foot of Mt. Guiting-Guiting. The permit was signed by then Environment Secretary Lito Atienza on Dec. 23, 2009, the MGB said.
Jasareno said the cancellation was based on a complaint of San Fernando Mayor Dindo Rios, who said the exploration activities posed a “grave threat to the rivers, streams and tourism of Sibuyan Island.”
“Sibuyan is home to Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park, which hosts one of the highest diversities of species in the world,” Jasareno said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has also filed a petition for a review of mining operations on the island, Jasareno said.
Rios said on the phone that the mining firm, which had set up an office in Barangay Taclobo in San Fernando, should abandon its exploration and leave the island.
No reason to stay
“They don’t have reason anymore to stay,” Rios said.
In a separate interview, Rios claimed the company’s permit was a “midnight deal,” having been allegedly signed by Atienza less than a month before the May 2010 election ban on contract signings.
Sought for comment, Steve Taule, project geographer of Altai Mining in San Fernando, said the firm immediately stopped its operations upon receipt of the MGB order.
Taule refused further comment, citing lack of authority to speak officially for the company. He said he was only told that the operations “are temporarily suspended.”
An official source said Altai Mining would release a statement later. “Not a single core [has been taken out yet],” the source said.
Atienza said on the phone that the signing of the permit was not anomalous. He said his office acted on the application after a review.
“All these were long-term applications and investments,” Atienza said.
Rios feared the wastes from the mining activities would contaminate the island’s water. Most of the residents of the town are fishermen.
Mining activities conducted by another company contaminated with mercury the water of another town, he said, adding: “We don’t want that to happen (in San Fernando).”
Rios said he had received a copy of the cease and desist order from the MGB. He said it was the agency’s reply to a letter he and antimining advocate Gina Lopez of the ABS-CBN Foundation sent earlier this month.
“I told them that, first, Altai Mining did not have a business permit from (the municipal government). Second, there is an ongoing moratorium (issued by) our governor that bans mining in Romblon,” Rios said.
Cleanest water body
“Our congressman has also filed a bill that seeks to exempt Romblon from any form of mining,” Rios said.
“We also cited (in the letter) that mining will endanger the Cantingas River, which is the cleanest inland water body in the Philippines,” he added.
Rios said that with the MGB decision to stop the exploration, San Fernando could now push through its planned ecotourism projects.
Originally posted: 8:06 pm | Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
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