SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/23 April) – Anti-mining advocates from the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur marked the Earth Day celebration Monday with another protest at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau regional office in this city to renew calls for the implementation of a court order temporarily stopping the operations of a mining company.
The protesters also called on MGB regional director Roger A. de Dios to resign for repeatedly refusing to impose the order stopping Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC) from operating within a watershed forest reserve in Cantilan town in Surigao del Sur.
The order was issued by Judge Alfredo P. Jalad 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.”
Chito Trillanes, a spokesperson of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag, said they will continue pounding on the gates of the MGB until the order was enforced.
The group was also awaiting the go-signal of MGB Director Leo Jasareno to send a multi-disciplinary team that will investigate alleged environmental violations by MMDC.
De Dios said the team was scheduled to conduct the probe between April 20 and 23.
In a March 13, 2013 memorandum from the MGB Central Office signed by Elmer B. Billedo, de Dios was told that the regional office “is not at liberty to disregard” the order and that “whether or not it would be appropriate to issue an Ore Transport Permit and Mineral Ore Transport Permit” in favor of MMDC “under the circumstances is a matter that is ultimately addressed to the sound discretion of the regional office.”
“However, it bears stressing that the exercise of such discretion must be done responsibly,” the memorandum added.
The same memorandum reminded de Dios of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, particularly paragraph 3, Section 4 which obliges officials from “doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public safety and public interest.”
But de Dios said that while the memorandum “blames him and his office” for the fiasco, he said he will stand by his decision.
“I really did not find any reason to order a closure when the allegations of siltation and the reduction of water of the irrigation system were not substantiated. We really cannot attribute it (to the mining activities),” he argued.
“What we found out was the siltation was due to the rampant logging in the watershed and small-scale mining activities upstream. Why can they not expose this?” he said.
He added he is willing to conduct another probe that will include Trillanes, Emma Hotchkiss, media and others so the real situation will be known.
Hotchkiss is a leader of the Nagpakabana nga Carcanmadcarlanon (NnC), an environment group covering the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza, all in Surigao del Sur.
“Before, I was also shouting and marching on the streets calling for Marcos to resign, but now I am the one being protested and told to resign,” de Dios said in half jest. “That is their right. I have nothing to hide.”
He expressed disappointment at Monday’s activity which he called a “mob rule” as the protesters rammed the MGB gate, padlocked it and waved tarpaulins with the words “MGB for sale”.
“That is already a violation of human rights of our employees who were also working at the time,” he said.
The official called on Trillanes and Hotchkiss to be “more objective” and to “respect me and my credentials and intelligence.”
“I will stand pat on my decision. I can face them in any forum to defend my decision,” the beleaguered public official said.
Aside from the Social Action Center and NnC, Monday’s protest action was also participated in by Iglesia Filipina Independiente priests and laymen from Dinagat, Siargao Island and Surigao City, and the United Church of Christ of the Philippines.
IFI Bishop Rhee Timbang refused to call the activity a protest but “an expression of the faith of the nation about the value of the earth because we only have one home”.
“Every 22nd of April the whole world celebrates and the various faiths here in Surigao join in this celebration,” Timbang said.
“This is also part of our solidarity with the people of Carcanmadcarlan who have been here for a long time now because of the MGB’s failure to implement a court decision to stop mining activities in Cantilan,” he said.
“The first threat to human beings on earth is large-scale mining,” he added.
Some 3,000 members of the Nagkahiusang Gagmay’ng Minero (Nagami) and their families joined the Earth Day commemoration.
Nagami spokesperson Ating Bustillo said their participation is to show support to the people’s sentiment against the massive destruction caused by large-scale mining.
Bustillo claimed that small-scale mining operations near the Parang-Parang watershed in Barangay Mat-I, this city the past 40 years have not disturbed the surrounding environment. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)