SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/14 March) — The Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Caraga Region has refused yet again to enforce a court order stopping Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation from operating within a watershed forest reserve in Cantilan town in Surigao del Sur.
MGB-Caraga regional director Roger A. de Dios told anti-mining protesters from five towns of Surigao del Sur, he would not enforce the 2-year old temporary environment protection order or TEPO against the firm without a written order from MGB Director Leo Jasareno
The protesters came from the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza. Numbering close to 100, including some church officials, they have picketed the MGB office here since Monday.
De Dios met the protesters around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. He told them he would only implement the TEPO if Jasareno issued a written order for him to do so.
In an interview over RMN-DXSN Wednesday morning, Jasareno said the TEPO should be enforced if it is executory.
“Hintayin natin ang utos ng (MGB) Region 13…may aksyon na yan,” Jasareno said, adding he already spoke with de Dios on Tuesday in Manila.
In Wednesday’s dialogue de Dios said Jasareno told him they would talk about it but that no conversation took place because the latter and did not return.
De Dios said that despite what Jasareno said on the radio, he will still prefer a “black and white” order from his superior on the TEPO.
He said he is willing to enforce the TEPO if the group can get a court order directing him to enforce it. “Lisud man sad kaayo kung moingon ko ipasarado kun wala kini nakabutang og klaro,” (It’s difficult to order a closure [of the mining firm) if there is no clear order)
The TEPO was issued by Judge Alfredo P. Halad of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 41 in Cantilan in November 2010, and affirmed on May 26, 2011 as “subsisting and effective until there is an order, lifting, revoking or dissolving it.”
Halad added: “This case shall not be dismissed on the ground of non-inclusion of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) as defendant”.
But an ocular inspection done by the local government unit of Cantilan and civil society groups on June 16, 2011 in Barangay Cabangahan, Cantilan showed that MMDC has continued to operate there despite the court order. This prompted the filing of a motion to cite the firm in contempt on July 19, 2011.
Halad, however, inhibited himself from the case as his son was hired by the law firm that serves as the legal counsel of MMDC.
Two other judges also inhibited themselves. Judge Merlyn Pacaro-Canedo of RTC Branch 40 in Tandag cited “heavy workload”. Judge Victor A. Canoy of RTC Branch 29 in Surigao City begged off as one of the counsels for MMDC is a complainant of an administrative case against him.
The complainant groups asked Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez to appoint a new judge or transfer the case to Cagayan de Oro City but no action has been taken so far.
Chito Trillanes of the Social Action Center further questioned the MGB for issuing an ore transport permit despite the TEPO and the absence of a mayor’s permit as required by the MGB itself.
De Dios said the MGB doesn’t really require a mayor’s permit.
Fr. Raymond Ambray, spokesperson of SAC and of environment watchdog Caraga Watch, said they were dissatisfied because the MGB refused to enforce the court order.
“Everything indeed has fallen on deaf ears. We have time and again tried our best to address the issue through our letters and request to the MGB office but they had refused to act on it,” said the priest.
Emma Hotchkiss, president of the Nagpakabana na CarCanMadCarLanon, hit Jasareno for his statement saying “he only pays lip-service.”
‘Destruction of watershed’
The protesters feared MMDC’s operations would further destroy the watershed forest reserve in Cantilan which is covered by Presidential Proclamation No. 1747 dated March 23, 2009. They said Pangihawan and Cabangahan creeks have become heavily silted.
De Dios said what is being mined is a “small part” of the watershed area which could not affect the 1,800 hectares of irrigated farmlands. But he told the protesters he will send a team next week to investigate the alleged destruction in the two creeks.
On December 17, 2012, the DENR dismissed a petition filed by the Cantilan Irrigation System Federation of Irrigators Association and six NGOs against MMDC questioning the legality of the firm’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement vis-à-vis the PP No. 1747 and the environmental destruction it has reportedly caused.
Hotchkiss said they already filed a motion for reconsideration on the decision.
Elvie Arrubio Sr., president of the irrigators association said the decision was biased particularly when it said that it found the mining operations “will not endanger environment” and “endanger the water and river systems of the area.”
“They didn’t invite us. We were not even included when they conducted the investigation in the area,” Arrubio said.
The farmer, who shed tears during the dialogue lamented that they have exhausted all peaceful means to bring their message to officials.
He said conflicts have occurred among their members owing to the reduced water supply.
“We can no longer plant, so what is going to happen in the next cropping season if mining will not be stopped?” he said.
Fr. Frank Olvis, vicar forane of the SAC for the five municipalities said the picket will continue until the TEPO is enforced.
Environment groups outside Surigao also hit MGB’s repeated refusal to enforce the TEPO.
Nokie Calunsag of Green Mindanao who previously worked in the area shared his disappointment over the decision.
“This is a very funny decision from MGB, a very controversial one since the mining firm operating in the area is closely linked to politicians in Surigao del Sur. A law is a law and nobody is supposed to be above the law, the president should take notice of this and take considerable action. I’m sure there is a bigger anomaly behind this and that the MGB is afraid that this might come out in the open,” said Calunsag.
Juland Suazo, spokesperson of Panalipdan Mindanao based in Davao City, said MGB’s decision was an “obstruction of justice” that has deprived the affected communities of their right to clean water and healthy ecosystem.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator for Kalikasan said the MGB officials should be investigated and held responsible for their failure to implement the court order. (Vanessa Almeda, with a report from Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)