TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines- With the concern of “rampant” offshore mining in the northeastern coast of Cagayan, the provincial board raised questions and concerns to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) over the issuance of permits to JDVC mining company to operate in the area.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) requested MGB to “shed light” over alleged offshore mining operations in the coastal towns of Gonzaga and Santa Ana, in their 89th Regular Session on Wednesday, May 23.
Over the past months, residents and concerned citizens have also posted on social media the alleged offshore mining activities in the area.
With a lot of questions raised, here is an in-depth look of the SP and MGB’s exchange during Wednesday’s session on suspended rules.
MGB’s Engineer Geoffrey Prado said Malaysian company Bogo Mining Resources was given a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the government to operate within the municipal waters of Gonzaga, Buguey, and portion of Aparri.
Philippine Mining Act of 1995 states that the MPSA is granted by the national government to a contractor for the exclusive right to mine within a contract area, with shares of gross output.
Prado said the environment secretary, as representative of the Philippines, approved the MPSA on June 9, 2010. This, he said, was the first of its kind in the country.
Bogo then entered with deal of assignment with JDVC, a Philippine company, which later tapped vessels of Ben Line Services to carry out the project, Prado said.
The agreement has a duration of 25 years, with JDVC extracting 1.3 million trimetric tons of black sand annually. Prado explained that the vessel would need to suck material from 40 kilometers deep underwater.
On April 28, Marina issued JDVC’s vessel(s) a “special permit” to conduct operations.
The MGB official said JDVC’s vessel M/V SIMGOOD1 operates at stationary coordinates located 15 kilometers away from the shoreline.
On May 17, MGB conducted a composite investigation on the issue with agencies such as Marina, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Immigration, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Among the concerns raised by locals are the alleged illegal drug operations of the vessel, deviation of the vessel from its intended location, health concerns, and the sounds brought by the suction pump affecting marine life in the area.
MGB said BFAR has seen that the suction pump did not affect marine life in the area. “Mismo dun sa suction, dun po nagfa-flock yung mga isda. Instead na lumalayo sila, yung mga isda po ay lumalapit,” Prado said.
Prado said the shutting down of the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) ala GPS were “tolerable and insignificant,” adding that the ship’s deviation was to move for safety from the “inclement weather.”
Board Members Maila Ting-Que and Vilmer Viloria, who were in Santa Ana town over the weekend, claimed to have seen two vessels in plain view from the shore.
On a related note, Doctor Raul Ting posted photos on Facebook on April 4, showing what appeared to be vessels allegedly mining off-shore. This was days before Marina’s supposed issuance of a special permit to JDVC’s vessel.
Ting-Que said some Santa Ana councilors were complaining why they were not given any courtesy from crew members had the ship docked for shelter in the town’s shores.
In defense, Prado said the vessels seen by locals were not from JDVC, as validated by his team, and that the ships were probably from other companies operating in the area.
The board member still questioned the presence of such vessels, saying that the local government had no idea of such operations.
“The LGU does not know why the ships are there. If the permits were given for Buguey and Gonzaga, what is it [vessel] doing in Santa Ana?” Ting-Que asked.
Prado admitted that the operation is considered large-scale but he denied incidents of rampant offshore mining in the said towns.
When SP tried to ask for further details about the agreement, the specifics of the mining company, and other issues such as who will be liable in case of violations, Prado told the board they should again write MGB another request letter containing their queries.
MGB was also unable to provide SP with the documents they were asking, such as the copy of JDVC’s MPSA and Marina’s “special permit.”
With a lot of questions unanswered, the board raised more concerns. Board Member Cris Barcena cast doubt over the exploration of JDVC.
Barcena asked Prado if JDVC had indeed extracted nothing from the area during their research stage even though Prado assured that the exploration stage merely done for research and feasibility purposes.
“So wala pa pong extraction? Kasi po kung maaalala n’yo yung isyu sa Palawan kasi exploration pa lang pero nag-eexcavate na sila eh,” Barcena told Prado.
“How can you explore without extracting a bit to check whether the mineral is there or not?” Ting-Que also asked.
Further, Prado revealed that there are other mining companies that are slated to operate in the area aside from JDVC.
Ting-Que asked if there were limits on the number of concessions DENR could permit. She said DENR cannot just allow all mining companies just because they have “complied.”
“Meron pa po kayong listahan [ng kumpanya] na hindi n’yo na nga po matandaan kung sino eh kung lahat po yun pinagsabay-sabay ang operation, paano naman po ang Cagayan?” Ting-Que said.
“Imaginine n’yo naman, sir. [It’s] mind-boggling [na] 1.3 million trimetric tons per year [ang ie-extract] and in 25 years that is more than 25 million tons na nawawala sa [atin]. Parang baka wala na pong mangyari sa shores ng Buguey at ng [Gonzaga],” she added.
The board also asked if JDVC would have needed the provincial government’s consent and approval first before the national government issued the mining company permits to operate.
Vice Governor Melvin Vargas asked for clarification on the matter, mentioning that SP has jurisdiction even for small-scale mining.
Since Prado was unsure if such operation would need SP’s approval, he again asked SP to pen another letter to MGB.
Meanwhile, Prado said there was public hearing prior to the issuance of permit.
SP has already requested for the record of people who attended public hearing. The board also asked if there were any local sanggunians who approved of the said operation.
“You don’t say that the public is the barangay chair. When you say public hearing dapat ho talagang massive information kasi you say nagissue po kayong notification na na-publish po iyon and yet the sanggunian does not know about this,” Ting-Que said.
Meanwhile, seemingly unsatisfied with MGB’s answers, Board Member Ross Resuello noted that MGB was “not yet prepared” for SP’s queries.
“Sana kabisado n’yo na po lahat kasi ito po ay environmental concern. We are about to pass an environmental education ordinance and here comes this project approved by the national government; but it seems we were not informed,” Resuello added.
Resuello asked MGB to further enlighten them about the issue, suggesting that a representative of the mining company appear on session.
Can it be stopped?
Board Member AJ Ponce, on the other hand, asked if the provincial government can stop JDVC’s offshore mining should the people reject such operation.
“If the province or the people affected will oppose regarding that offshore mining, what can we do to stop those offshore mining? Can the province, can the MGB help us na itigil po yun?” Ponce asked.
Prado replied that the operation would only cease if the agency has validated complaints from residents. He said MGB cannot easily shoe away companies which were given permits.
“Kung may order po diyan na paalisin natin then we have to look into the grounds kung bakit natin paalisin. Otherwise ano po ang isasagot natin sa kanila bakit [sila] papaalisin?”
For Board Member Perla Tumaliuan, SP’s reaction to the matter is “incumbent” upon them as “protectors” of the province, including its natural resources.
“It’s natural for us to know and to react kasi tayo po yung mawawalan and definitely, ano po yung mapapala ng provincial government and how we can protect the natural resources especially now in the extraction phase,” Tumaliuan said.
“Even when it’s coming from the national government, that is our jurisdiction. Kaya you cannot just expect us to okay ‘sige, kalkalin nyo na kung anong mina ang meron sa amin diyan.’ We are supposed to protect our natural resources here,” Tumaliuan said. Northernforum.net