By Joan Garcia
ILOCOS SUR — After a fruitful dialogue between Dir. Leo Jasareno of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and representatives of environmental advocates in Ilocos Sur, the Bureau and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave their commitment to stop black sand mining in the province.
Last March 8, more than 100 individuals led by representatives from the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, Ilocos Sur Collective Action for the Protection of the Environment (ISCAPE), Defend Ilocos Against Mining Plunder (Defend Ilocos) and Bantay Amianan held a prayer rally and dialogue at the DENR Central Office to protest the on-going magnetite mining in the province.
One of the topics discussed during the dialogue was the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the MGB last January 28 against Wellresource Mining Company. Representatives from the group said that despite the CDO, the company has still been operating along the shores of Caparacadan, Caoayan and San Sebastian, San Vicente.
Jasereno called MGB Region 1 Dir. Carlos Tayag to ask about the status of the CDO and if his instruction to deploy MGB personnel to closely monitor the area is met. Tayag claimed that since February 25, there has been no black sand mining in the said areas and that his men are guarding the site.
At this, the group presented evidence to debunk Tayag’s claim. Upon further prodding from Jasereno, Tayag admitted that the CDO has not been implemented and that Wellresource has not stopped its operations.
Another issue that the group asked to tackle was the issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate that is being used by Wellresource as a permit for their operations. The group questioned the issuance on the following grounds: (1) it was given without prior public consultation and (2) the area covered is within the 200-meter from the low tide level “no mining zone” onshore.
Other topics discussed during the dialogue are the number of mineral processing permitpermits (MPP) for black sand extraction, the lack of a specific policy and study regarding offshore and beach mining, and the accountability of local government officials who tolerates and supports the illegal mining activities in the province.
After the discussion, Jasareno made the declaration that all black sand extraction operations in the province are illegal.
He said that the MGB has not yet issued any magnetite mining permit in the coastal areas of Ilocos Sur and that it is prohibited to undertake mining in beach areas located 200 meters from the mean low tide onshore where most of the magnetite concentrates are located. Jasareno also mentioned that based on the MGB geo-hazard mapping, the coastal areas of Ilocos Sur is highly vulnerable to water and wind erosion making sand mining unsuitable.
Further, the director said that the issuance of an ECC is not equivalent to a permit to mine and that it can be revoked if the company is found to violate provisions of the mining law.
Jasareno also said that the issuance of the permit for offshore mining is currently on hold except for exploration purposes because the MGB has yet to have a specific and detailed policy on the matter.
One key problem seen in the mining in the province is that the Regional office is unable to implement the CDO probably because of the support and tolerance of the local government units to the mining operations.
After the dialogue, the group and Jasereno agreed on the following course of action:
1. The MGB-DENR Central Office and other national agencies concerned will intervene and ensure the full implementation of the CDO against Wellresource and that the problem of unrestrained illegal black sand mining in the province will be addresses. This includes the verification of work permit and visa of foreign nationals involved.
2. Immediate filing of legal case against Wellresource and recommendation of its blacklisting to concerned agencies.
3. A directive must be given to the regional office to strictly monitor the mining and transport of magnetite in the province.
4. Review of all ECC mining permits issued related to black sand mining and revocation of all permits that has been found to violate environmental law, especially those relevant to mining.
5. Blanket moratorium on the issuance of MPP for black sand processing in the Province of Ilocos Sur.