Black sand mining


After the assassination of the mayor of Gonzaga, Cagayan, and various other news items regarding black sand mining in Northern Luzon, I would like to know what is the real score.

What I do know is that black sand mining has been going on since the 1960’s, at least in La Union.  They have probably mined out the unprotected beaches there by now  (those that do not have resorts or militant landowners nearby to oppose their destruction) and have since moved north, particularly Cagayan Province, even to the Ilocos, and as far south as Camarines Sur. Aside from turning beaches and their environs into industrial waste areas and preventing the beach to be enjoyed as a beach, black sand mining takes over public space privatizing it for obviously private gain.  At the end of black sand mining, the beach is stripped to bedrock which means it is no longer a beach with sand, foliage, or inviting swimming water.  This latter because the sand that is not black or magnetite-bearing (used for steel-making) is dumped every which way in rivers, and along the coastline creating an environmental mess that is also hostile for recreational use.

How black sand mining has been allowed by local governments, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through its Bureau of Mines and Geosciences Bureau, demands a rational explanation.  Do we have a policy allowing black sand mining wherever or by whomever?

Do the consequences of turning beaches into non-beaches due to black sand mining as a matter of course not ring any alarm bells somewhere?  Do these black sand mining companies follow the rules imposed as a requisite for their permits?  Or, is black sand mining allowed at all in this country after and during the depredations that it has wrought?

Black sand mining has been excused because it provides local governments, particularly impoverished ones, with enough tax money to improve themselves.  Usually these improvements come in the form of infrastructure i.e. a new city hall, new vehicles for local government officials, some paved roads, more public amenities like basketball courts, waiting sheds, maybe a gathering place for entertainment or political campaigning.  In other words, consumerist uses, useful for political points. Hardly ever are these funds used for innovations or improvements in Education (except maybe adding classrooms, which is again infrastructure).  I am suspicious of the construction frenzy that follows the advent of the sudden new funds in these parts.  It usually means some kind of kickback arrangement between the parties.  So, you may say that black sand mining abets corruption.

The point I am making is that black sand mining taxes are not commensurate with the destruction of the environment or even the kind of so-called improvements they bring to the areas in which they operate.

It will take a huge time period for the sand to get back to the original configuration in those mined out beaches, if ever.  What is obvious is the landscape and seascape are altered for the worse.  There may be a sea or a river scarred forever.

The other observation I have is that most of the mining companies that engage in black sand mining are seemingly fly-by-night unknowns that may very well be exploiting workers as they exploit their environment.  They do not exhibit any responsibility or care about the environment that they are destroying.  From the destruction and mess they leave behind, they do not seem reputable.  Certainly, their mining methods are not sustainable or modern but crude and anti-environmental.

Worse, they seem to be run by foreigners who are here for the profit without any measure of corporate social responsibility.  Is it not in our Constitution that exploitation of natural resources must be by firms with a majority of Filipino owners? Everyone seems shadowy in the black sand mining business and the relationship with local government officials is equally so.  Time and again work stoppage orders have been given by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to these entities.  They pretend not to work by day but as soon as the sun sets, they begin.

Residents complain of sleep deprivation (adding health destruction to environmental destruction) when the heavy machines create a racket through the night. Dump trucks start loading and driving towards Port Irene where the black sand is exported (mostly to Chinese smelters).

So, the question is “Does the government as a matter of policy allow/encourage black sand mining?”  Why are there official noises about not giving permits but black sand mining still continues?  Is the destruction that it wreaks on our shorelines worth the taxes or monetary inducements that they offer?

And it must be explained exactly why the Cagayan Mayor was killed.  Was it about black sand mining and its dynamics in isolated local governments in towns whose beaches are being obliterated?  In Cagayan from the governor, to the local officials of Aparri, Camalaniugan and Lallo, are all promoting, abetting and excusing black sand mining.

Aparri claims that the Chinese mining black sand will put up a retaining wall to stop storm surges under a so-called Aparri Coastal Tourism Development Plan.  It must be merely on paper because there is no physical evidence that it is being built.  Taking into account, the behavior of the Chinese companies mining black sand, I think it will never happen.
The time has come to declare what is the policy, how it is enforced and who is involved in its implementation.  Can local governments supersede national agencies in regard to giving out mining permits?  Should black sand mining be permitted?  What are the benefits as against the costs?  The public needs to know.


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  1. mauricio palao on

    A very interesting read. It brings to mind the destruction being wrought by loggers since the 1950s and the Agusan provinces, Surigao, Davao, Leyte and Samar. There has been no organized reforestation in these areas since. Today, with just a little rain in these provinces, there is significant flooding and costly soil erosion..damage not easily remedied. I don’t know that any ‘Local Government’ secretary has addressed this problem..since. Isn’t this tragic?

  2. THANK YOU very much for this article!

    I hope it enlightened the citizens affected by the black sand mining in my MOST BELOVED home province – CAGAYAN, that the killing of an LGU Executive awaken or at least be a reminder to those in power that not all Cagayanos welcome black sand mining and that the soulless politicians will start considering the long-term result of black sand mining.

    God bless us all!