Stop impending magnetite mining in Ilocos, groups ask CA

Altamina Exploration Resources Inc.’s six exploration permits were converted to a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement, providing it with an assurance that it could recover its capital outlay in five years.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA –Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino testified before the Court of Appeals to put a stop to the impending magnetite mining activities in the neighboring provinces of Santa, Ilocos Sur.

“I also assert my constitutional right to a healthful and balanced ecology in opposing magnetite/black sand mining activities that do not comply with the laws of the land,” he said in his affidavit. Palatino is a petitioner in the case.

Palatino said in the hearing that he visited Santa and conducted several consultations with youth leaders and members of Kabataan Partylist in the area. He said residents feared that the already eroding shores and coastal areas of Santa could worsen once mining of its black sand starts in its neighboring provinces, cities or municipalities.

In an en banc session on May 8, the Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan against the mining activities and government officials involved.

The Writ of Kalikasan, according to the Supreme Court, is a remedy for people whose “constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.”

Altamina Exploration Resources Inc.’s six exploration permits were converted to a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement, providing it with an assurance that it could recover its capital outlay in five years. The company is also not required to pay taxes for five years.

Altamina’s exploration and mining activities were set to cover 9,588.24 hectares. During the hearing at the Court of the Appeals, where the Supreme Court referred the case to receive evidence and render a decision, Alejandro Herrera Jr., chief operating officer of Altamina, said that mining activities in about 5,000 hectares would be conducted offshore.

No positive response from govt

Palatino said he was informed of the mining project when Santa Mayor Jeremy Jesus Bueno III furnished his office a copy of the Altamina’s approved exploration permits in their municipality.

“I had also received from Mayor Bueno a copy of the approved Financial and Technical Assistance signed by then executive secretary Leandro Mendoza in favor of Altamina Exploration and Development Corporation, which covers onshore and offshore areas of the provinces of Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.

Palatino was also given copies of the letter that was submitted to various concerned government agencies. When asked if they were denied relief, he said that there was “no positive response” from government agencies, which “forced them to file for the writ.”

He also said he did not write letters to government agencies because Altamina has been granted an FTAA, which meant that it is “not an ordinary mining contract.”

The FTAA is handed to mining companies upon the discretion of the president, as guaranteed by the Mining Act of 1995.

One of the justices, however, noted during the hearing that the Writ of Kalikasan would not be easily dismissed even if there were possible problems in the documentary evidence that were presented. He added that the main tasks of both parties is to prove whether or not there is a possible threat to the environment if magnetite mining was allowed in the neighboring provinces of Santa.

Mitigate impact?

Respondents to the case, on the other hand, presented Mines and Geoscience Bureau geologist Danilo Octaviano, who said the mining company has submitted all requirements to secure a environmental compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“They have an environmental impact assessment,” Octaviano said, “They predicted the potential negative impact of the mining operations and proposed ways to mitigate it.”

He added that among the possible impact of black sand mining is a change in the sea bottom topography, which could alter the flow of the sea, making it deeper.

When asked how it would affect marine life, Octaviano said, “There are so many (possible harmful impacts) but it would be addressed by the mining company.”

“Mining only benefits the community but not the environment,” Octaviano said.

Possible impact of magnetite mining

An investigation conducted by Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) early this year revealed that since the “operations are primarily for mining, these will generally focus on finding and extracting the highest concentration and volume of magnetite. Considerations relevant to flooding and bank erosion such as flow regimes, sediment discharge and channel geometry will be secondary, or worse, irrelevant to the operation.”

The group said magnetite mining would also threaten the supply of fish and other aquatic products. “The extraction of black sand from the river or ocean bed disturbs the habitat of benthic organism – one of the key elements of aquatic life,” the report read.

It includes worms, shells, and algae, which are highly sensitive and may react to any kind of change that would occur.

In visits conducted by members of Defend Ilocos, they found out that in Barangay Paratong in Ilocos Sur, a tidal surge created a 100-meter horizontal erosion and a 40-to-60 meter retreat in its shoreline. In SitioNamnama, on the other hand, its shoreline has retreated by roughly 150 meters.

Residents, in a previous Bulatlat.com report, attributed the erosion to the black sand mining that was permitted in their town from 2008 to 2010. “They also said that there is black sand extraction in the adjacent town of San Vicente.”

At present, there is no approved mining exploration in the area but a mining ship’s activities affected neighboring towns.

“The sand, the residents said, are already uneven and the water level is already unpredictable. Their fish catch also lessened and its sizes decreased. Several fisher folk also said the taste of the fish is tainted with oil, probably coming from the vessel,” a previous Bulatlat.com report read.

In other parts of the country, residents and concerned groups also demanded a stop to the magnetite mining activities in their areas.

Last year, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya urged Aquino to put a stop to the magnetite mining activities in the coastal waters of Eastern Visayas region. Their local chapter in the said region documented about 17 application for magnetite mining out of the 107 offshore mining bids.

In Bicol, the Lakas ng mga Maliliit na Mangingisda sa Bicol also urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources not to approve the pending application of a US-Korean company to mine black sand in their area, which would cover more than 17,000 hectares of municipal coastal waters in San Miguel Bay, affecting five municipalities of Camarines Sur.

“The present state of coastal erosion, the potential impacts of climate change and, more importantly, the presence of vulnerable communities provide a strong argument to stop sand mining in the said coast of Cagayan,” the CEC report read, “A comprehensive plan to protect the coast and the communities should be drawn up and implemented instead.”

The next hearings of the Court of Appeals on the case are scheduled on September 4 and 11. ()

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