By Joshua Corcuera
Local residents of Sibuyan in the province of Romblon have protested recent mining-related activities on their island—a courageous effort to protect nature and their dwelling place. For this column, I would share the history of their decades-long opposition to mining, and the sacrifices they have made for a noble cause.
As I have mentioned, most Sibuyan residents opposed mining for decades, as I found out based on a timeline provided by renowned online news website Rappler. The timeline started far back to June of 1972 where the government awarded a “lease contract to Sta. Barbara Development Corporation to conduct mining exploration in Sibuyan.”
After nearly a quarter-century, former President Ramos declared as a national park a mountain located on the island, Mount Guiting-Guiting. This could have emphasized the unspoiled natural beauty of the island which has been called the ‘Galapagos of Asia’.
It is important to take note that Sibuyan is rich in flora and fauna as it is home to hundreds of species including those that are threatened. Moreover, Seacology, an environmental group, stated that the island’s forest is one of the densest globally. The same island is also home to over 62,000 people, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
By November 2005, a barangay endorsed mining projects, through a resolution, since it may provide employment opportunities to locals, and as it supports “responsible mineral resource exploration, development, and utilization.” A former town mayor, however, ordered local police to stop the mining exploration of a mining company the following year. Likewise, the barangay that endorsed mining projects the previous year voided its previous resolution.
In October 2007, a local municipal councilor, Armin Marin, was “shot dead during a picket attended by anti-mining advocates,” the timeline stated. More than a month before, former environment secretary Angelo Reyes approved five special cutting permits which estimates the cutting down of nearly 70,000 trees. The approval was questioned by an anti-mining coalition, according to Rappler.
The suspect in the killing of Marin was Mario Kingo, and, according to an Inquirer report, was acquitted of murder charges in May 2012. Kingo was merely sentenced to three years for negligence and imprudence, the report added. The acquittal was condemned with Father Edu Gariguez saying that should they [anti-mining activists] be killed, “their lives were worth only three years in jail for their killers,” the article said.
In February 2012, former Romblon governor Eduardo Firmalo said that “metallic mining has no room in the province.” A decade later, however, an exploration permit of a mining company was renewed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This resulted in protest activities against mining operations by locals. Last February 3, videos from Sibuyan showed mining trucks successfully entering the island as locals form a human barricade only to be dispersed by police.
These past few days, the mining company at the spotlight of the issue is APMC, which was given a mineral production sharing agreement in 2009. According to a report from CNN Philippines, the said mining company claimed that they were allowed to “export 50,000 tons of nickel ore” by the DENR. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR assured in a statement to Rappler that the activities of APMC shall be monitored while relevant laws are being enforced to protect the environment.
With all of this summarized information, it cannot be denied that the people of Sibuyan are brave and strong enough to take a stand to defend their island, its natural beauty, and all the other plants and animals that live in it. Without doubt, they sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears. Still, there is a long battle ahead as mining companies threaten to spoil this paradise, especially if they are involved in irresponsible mining.