An international study in 2005 identified the Verde Island Passage as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine shorefish biodiversity.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Environmental groups, fisherfolk, church and business leaders from Batangas are urging the government to reject the application for commercial operation of a large-scale gold mining company, which threatens the rich, biodiversity and marine conservation area of Lobo town.
In a dialogue today, June 9, with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), groups led by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Bukluran para sa Inang Kalikasan (Bukal-Batangas) urged the agency to follow its own laws and protect Lobo’s conservation area and sanctuaries from the Australian-Canadian mining firm, MRL Gold-Egerton Gold Phils Inc.
Fr. Daks Ramos of the Archdiocese Ministry on Environment of Batangas (AMEN), and businessmen who belong to the Lobo Resort Owners’ Association (Loroa) joined the environmentalists.
The groups cited a 2005 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which called the Verde Island Passage, located between Batangas and Mindoro island, as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine shorefish diversity, “with the highest concentration of marine life in the world.”
“The Egerton gold project will be utilizing open-pit mining technology, which will result in the production and dumping of millions of metric tons of mine wastes into the Lobo River, down to the waters of the Verde Island Passage,” said Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.
“This impending mine pollution will surely spell death to current marine conservation areas in Lobo municipality alone,” he said.
After more than a decade of exploration in Lobo, MRL Gold-Egerton had applied for a permit to commercially mine gold in 24,000 hectares in Batangas.
The groups protested what they called “railroading” of the environmental compliance clearance (ECC) for MRL Gold-Egerton’s operation, saying that their side was not heard at the public consultation held by the EMB in May.
“They (government) need to only review their existing programs and laws, they will see that there should not be any mining in Lobo,” said Bautista.
Bautista said the DENR had declared four marine conservation areas in Lobo: Lobo Mangrove Conservation Area, the Sawang Olo-olo Fish Sanctuary and Refuge Area, Malabrigo Fish Sanctuary and Refuge Area, and the Biga Fish Sanctuary and Refuge Area.
EMB Assistant Director Dr. Eva Ocfemia gave her commitment to the groups that the agency will consider their position and will also give them a copy of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the company, according to Peti Enriquez, Bukal secretary general. The EMB official also said they will visit Lobo.
Bautista said the “grave environmental risks” of mining to the Verde Island Passage shoud be enough for government to deny Egerton’s application for ECC.
“As large-scale mining involves deforestation and land clearing, flora and fauna will be surely lost and communities will be displaced in the development and commercial operation of the mining project,” he said.
The groups were joined by farmers belonging to the Samahan ng Magbubukid ng Batangas (Sambat) and fisherfolk of the Haligi ng Batangueñong Anakdagat (Habagat), who held a picket in front of the compound of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) national office in Quezon City.
Bautista lambasted the government’s policy of liberalization in mining, which, he said, “disregards the life, livelihood and welfare, and rights of the people,” as it gives in to foreign mining companies’ wanton use of the environment and resources.