CANDELARIA, Zambales: Anti-mining advocates in this province claimed that the provincial governor has allowed a mining firm here to haul stockpiles of nickel ore from the mountains to the port in the guise of doing environmental rehabilitation.
Concerned Citizens of Santa Cruz (CCOS) chairman Benito Molino said over one million metric tons of nickel ore with a conservative estimate of P750 million are being hauled out of the mountains of this town into the Binabalian port of BenguetCorp Nickel Mines, Inc. (BNMI).
Molino said the recent Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso with Westchinamin, described as a small scale miner, has allowed the said firm to haul its over a million metric ton stockpile of nickel ore from the mountains.
Deloso, however, denied the claim.
In a text message to The Manila Times, Deloso said there is no mining operation in Candelaria town.
“Not true, no mining operation here, removal of dangerous and hazardous waste per order of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR),” the text message said.
“What is being done is evacuation of waste, not mining, he said, adding “Not piled up near Uacon Lake).”
Molino said it was Deloso who approved of giving Westchinamin the Ore Transport Permit (OTP) issued by the DENR’s regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
He said Deloso signed the MOA on November 11, 2016 allowing Westchinamin to haul down the mineral ores to offset the cost of its clean up measures which is directly inconsistent with his first executive order declaring a mining moratorium in Zambales and the need for public consultation.
“Because of this, Westchinamin has been hauling the stockpile in Barangay Uacon, Candelaria via Lucapon South Santa Cruz and taking it to the Binabalian port of BNMI,” Molino added.
The hauling reportedly began after Christmas last year.
The CCOS chairman said the MOA is illegal because nickel extraction in the name of rehabilitation and stockpiling in a mining site is illegal.
“The use of heavy equipment is not allowed in small scale mining, and extraction in small scale mining is limited to 50,000 tons per annum,” Molino said.
The Supreme Court has stopped mining operations of all small scale mining companies in Zambales during the time of former Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and Deloso ordered a moratorium on mining in Zambales on his first day in office last year.
Molino added that the MGB regional director should be investigated about why Westchinamin was allowed to extract nickel from 2015-2016 using a rehabilitation permit MGB issued.
He also urged the government, particularly the DENR, to stop the hauling operations and to confiscate the stockpiles.
He said the residents of Barangay Uacon in Candelaria has been protesting the nickel extraction in Duplac, Barangay Uacon because the alleged rehabilitation by Westchinamin is polluting Uacon Lake.