Destruction by foreign mining companies in Palawan

ANG BAYAN
7 March 2012
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The Aquino government's claims that it nurtures Palawan, its rich environment and endemic flora and fauna is a lie. In fact, practically the entire island has been laid bare to foreign mining companies.

Palawan is rich in mineral resources. It is estimated to have P300 billion worth of nickel deposits. Since the Mining Act of 1995 was signed into law, plunderous foreign companies have been scrambling to penetrate and take over the entire island of Palawan.

Currently, there is a mining application for every square meter of Palawan's land, river and sea. In the southern part of the island alone, 16 permits have been granted to various mining companies to operate off the western coast, in the so-called "Recto Bank," a small islet near Palawan. The area reportedly has three trillion cubic feet of natural gas, bigger than that being mined from Malampaya, a source of oil and natural gas in northern Palawan. Even the famed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or the Palawan Underground River is being targeted by plunderers.

Among the foreign companies with mining operations in Palawan is the Vancouver, Canada-based MBMI Resources Incorporated.

MBMI mines nickel, a mineral with many industrial and consumer uses such as the manufacture of stainless steel and rechargeable batteries. In the Philippines, MBMI has nine nickel mines covering 22,000 hectares, including 3,277 hectares in the towns of Rizal, Bataraza and Narra in Palawan.

These towns are found along Mt. Bulanjao in southern Palawan, a forested area where the headwaters of the six major rivers supplying water to the entire population originate. There are fears that mining operations will damage and poison these rivers, ancestral lands and productive agricultural lands.

Also conducting mining operations in Palawan is the London-based Toledo Mining Corporation which owns a nickel mine in the province. Another is Rio Tuba Mining Corporation, which plans to operate in Bulanjao Range. It is also run by MBMI Resources Incorporated.

In 2011, a number of nickel companies in Palawan earned a total of P3 billion. Among the companies with approved applications for nickel mining are Narra Nickel Mining and Development, Inc. (NNMDI), Tesoro Mining and Development, Inc. (TMDI) and McArthur Mining, Inc. (MMI).

Another firm is MacroAsia, which is owned by billionaire Lucio Tan, one of the Philippines' biggest bourgeois compadors. It plans to begin mining operations in the 1,114-hectare ancestral lands of the Tagbanua in the Gantong and Mantalingahan Mountain Ranges.

Palawe├▒os rail against mining. Palawe├▒os successfully launched an antimining demonstration in the island on January 24. More than a thousand people were able to join the rally held in Puerto Princesa City despite intense military repression. The rally was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega, a broadcaster and antimining activist who has yet to be given justice.

Led by the Mamamayan Kontra Mine (MKM) alliance, it was the biggest rally launched in the province since 2005-2006. The protesters, who came from different parts of the island rode on buses and boats. Volunteers contributed and cooked food like rice and fish.

Four layers of checkpoints set up by the military failed to daunt the rallyists. Their vehicles were stopped on the pretext that the authorities were looking for an escaped convict. The protesters were ordered to alight, and were frisked and terrorized by the military. The harassment caused some delegations to arrive late, reducing the time left for the program.

Nonetheless, the rally was a success, with the demonstrators collectively assailing the entry of mining companies in Palawan and demanding justice for Ortega.