CANDELARIA, Zambales: Anti-mining advocates in this province hit President Benigno
Aquino 3rd for his failure keep his promise and his seeming lack of interest to protect the rights of residents affected by alleged destructive mining perpetrated by mining companies operating here.
A statement issued by the Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz (CCOS) tasked Aquino on one of his pronouncements in the 2012 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that if mining is destructive to the environment, it needs to be stopped. But despite evidence of its destructive effects on the environment, mining has continued unabated in Zambales, the CCOS said.
The group also noted that the cases filed against the residents who put up barricades protesting the continuing operation of mining firms in the towns of Santa Cruz and Candelaria here were clear evidence of harassment.
On Feb. 9 this year, 12 residents of Santa Cruz, including a municipal councilor and two village councilors, were charged with violation of the Mining Act of 1995, filed by Zambales Diversified Metals Corp. (ZDMC) Inc., whose delivery of nickel was disrupted by their protest.
Similarly, on Feb. 28, nine people were arrested and charged with illegal assembly by Candelaria policemen for blocking the hauling trucks of Benguet Nickel and Mines, Inc. (BNMI) from bringing nickel ore to the port of Binabalian for transport to China.
The BNMI sent a rejoinder to The Manila Times, saying that “the protest action which had no permit from local officials turned unruly when police intervened, resulting to injuries of some mine workers who were hit with stones thrown by the barricaders.”
It added, “BNMI did not cause environmental degradation in Santa Cruz, Zambales. The Company has been strictly observing all statutory and regulatory standards that the DENR through its watchdog agencies like EMB and the MGB are enforcing.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, combined members of the Zambales police and security guards of ZDMC broke up the human barricade of residents in Barangay Bayto in Santa Cruz town. The barricade has been in place since Jan.19 this year and has survived an earlier dispersal attempt, where a number of residents were hurt and arrested.
Meanwhile, CCOS through its chair Dr. Benito Molino, asked Aquino to cancel the permits of all mining firms in Zambales and declare a moratorium on mining in the country.
Molino said Santa Cruz town began to experience environmental destruction in 2011, initially affecting rivers, streams, farms, fishponds, roads and the health of the residents.
In August of 2013, three to four feet of reddish mud flooded the town, affecting rivers, fishponds and farmlands.
Mining operations of BNMI and three other firms were suspended in 2014, and conditions set before they could resume operations. In 2015, mining was again allowed in Zambales, though a suspension was imposed again later that year and lifted in August.
In October 2015 Typhoon Lando wreaked havoc in the province with death of seven residents, which was blamed on mining activities exacerbating destruction caused by floods.
However, Molino added, mining companies were cleared by the provincial and municipal governments of responsibility.