Philippines: Bishops call for halt to mining

Biliran island

Biliran island

On 22 October 2010, the Catholic bishops of  the Eastern Visayas in the Philippines – the islands of Leyte, Samar and Biliran, issued a statement urging that large-scale destructive mining on these islands be halted.  It was sent to Hon Ramon JP Paje, Secretary of the Philippine Government Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

Text follows:

In 1988, the CBCP in its Pastoral Letter on Ecology,"WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR BEAUTIFUL LAND?" sounded off the alarm about the perilous state of our country's natural endowments, that is, "...All the living systems on land and in the seas are being ruthlessly exploited. The damage to date (then) is extensive and, sad to say, it is often irreversible." We, the bishops called on all Filipinos to recognize the situation at hand and that such situation shall be responded to with utmost urgency. "...The task of preserving and healing is a daunting one given human greed and the relentless drive of our plundered economy. But we must not lose HOPE. "
Indeed, our collective observations and sentiments, then, were very profound and prophetic. Our observations still very valid and evident to this day, and our call for action remains as urgent as ever. Most parts of the country today are still in perilous state because of too much development aggression, particularly mining and logging.

For one, the Eastern Visayas region has lately been the object of high level of interest by certain sectors, both government and private, to pursue aggressively the development of mining industry in the region. During a mining forum in Tacloban in August this year, the Regional Director of the Mines and Geosciences Board (MGB) even boasted that the region will eventually be the top mining region in the country considering its vast mining potentials. In fact, even prior to the said forum, several mining permits to explore along with mining production sharing agreements (MPSAs) have been issued in many parts of the region extending the three islands - Samar, Leyte and Biliran. Moreover, small islands like Manicani and Homonhon in Eastern Samar and Batag Island in Northern Samar remain threatened by mining operations. In Manicani for instance, Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) has since initiated moves to lift the suspension of mining operations in the island. In Homonhon, an historical island, after a few months respite from massive mining operations again is threatened by the application of a large mining permit by the Cambayas Mining, and the current small-scale mining operations granted to two permittees by the Local Mining Board. Same is also happening in Batag Island. The mainland of Samar and Leyte are not spared by the onslaught of mining permits (e.g. exploration permits, MPSAs, permit to extract among others) issued left and right by the Local Mining Board (small-scale) and the MGB (for large-scale).

As shepherds of our flock, it is our collective sentiments that the continuing drive for development of the Eastern Visayas region anchored on mining as well as other extractive economic pursuits only reinforce the irreversible trend of permanently damaging nature's endowments. As a consequence, the many lines of opportunities upon which our people can draw their life sustenance will definitely be threatened immensely. We ask ourselves, "Haven't we learned the lessons of the past?" In our own reckoning, our people have so much to share about the adverse effects of mining to their livelihood, to their well-being as persons and as families, to the quality of life in their communities and to their very own dignity as people of God.

The mining experience in Bagacay is a very clear and compelling example of how bad mining is. After exploiting the area, the mining company left it abandoned and permanently destroyed. The people who had high hopes of being lifted from their sorry state of poverty were left to fend for themselves and grapple with the realities that there are no more fertile grounds to grow their food or natural river systems to catch the fishes for their day's meal. The sorry state of Taft River to this very day is a perfect symbol of mining's neglect and abandonment and waste.

The struggle of the people in the islands of Manicani, Homonhon and Batag for more than a decade now is another clear testament that mining never lived up to its promise of improving the quality of life of .the people. Instead, the islands' source of livelihood had been systematically destroyed - the forests, the farmlands, mangroves, river systems, coral reefs among others. But more telling is the destruction of the islands' social fabric - families and communities have been polarized. What pervades has been the situation of unpeace and disharmony. People in the islands have been constantly threatened by another prospect of systematic destruction of the island they call home.

Compounding these lessons on the effects of mining are the misplaced priorities of some of our local leaders who have acted more as agents of the mining firms rather than agents of the people. In many instances, highlighting the benefits of mining and ignoring the "real" costs are concrete examples how people are being misled or misinformed about mining. In many instances still, the financial levers of mining make their way to the different levels of the decision flow to get favorable cognizance or acceptance.

Weighing down the benefits and costs of mining whether it is economic, social or environmental; judging on the lessons of the past and prospects of the future generations; and, reflecting on our role as Stewards of God's creation, we, the bishops of Eastern Visayas, call on to our responsible leaders in government, in the private sector and all those who harbor intentions of mining our region to listen to the voices of our people, "Bring back the Beautiful Land we had once; STOP MINING IN OUR REGION."

+Most Rev. Jose S. Palma, DD
Archbishop, Archdiocese of Palo
+Most Rev. Felomino G. Bactol, DD
Bishop, Diocese of Naval
+Most Rev. Emmanuel C. Trance, DD
Bishop, Diocese of Catarman
+Most Rev. Precioso D. Cantillas, SDB, DD
Bishop, Diocese of Maasin
+Most Rev. Crispin B. Varquez, DD
Bishop, Diocese of Borongan Bishop,
+Most Rev. Isabelo C. Abarquez, DD
Bishop, Diocese of Calbayog

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