Poor residents, barangay and town officials, as well as environmental advocates, over the weekend deplored the national government’s inaction on the illegal and excessive mining that has ravaged the environment and aggra-vated the indigenous community of Tubay, Agusan del Norte.
But it did not come as a surprise to Tubay’s residents that their longstanding grievance has been swept under the rug with the interference of bigwigs in the Noynoy Aquino’s administration and the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
It surfaced long before that the erring San Roque Mining, Inc. (SRMI) and its subsidiaries are all owned by wealthy businessman and political patron Francis Enrico “Eric” Gutierrez, a generous donor to Noynoy and Mar Roxas’ cam-paign funds in the 2010 elections.
Since Gloria Arroyo’s administration, Gutierrez has been backed by his business partner and protector former Caloocan City vice-mayor and now House Representative Edgar Erice, a rabid LP supporter of Noynoy and Mar.
Apparently, Erice has served as Gutierrez’s “godfather” and “Mr. Fixit” for SRMI group’s troubles.
The Congress’ official website indicates that Erice remains SRMI’s director.
For over a decade since 2004, the fourth-class coastal municipality with a population of just over 20,000 has en-dured the abusive mining of mineral ore by the SRMI group.
In response to persistent complaints sent from my iPhone, officials of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conducted an investigation into SRMI’s opera-tions, which it discovered to have adversely affected the environment.
The authorities also found that SRMI had for years violated the conditions of their small-scale mining permit, par-ticularly the provision limiting each company’s extraction of nickel ore to 15,000 metric tons annually.
MGB’s environmental audit, conducted jointly with other agencies and the University of the Philippines (UP) ge-ologists, reported that the SRMI and its two subsidiaries have extracted up two million tons of the mineral, particu-larly in the years 2006 and 2007.
In connection with the ensuing DENR case filed through the Solicitor General, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled against the Gutierrez group of companies in 2012.
But no sanctions were imposed against the firms which continued its excessive mining operations while it dragged the case to the Supreme Court.
In June last year, however, the high court affirmed the appellate court’s ruling and trashed SRMI’s petition for a reversal.
Some Tubay residents this weekend said they are losing hope that justice will ever be served, as the SRMI group continues the destructive mining that has not uplifted their lives in any way.
They strongly expressed fear of massive disaster that may possibly result from the erosion, as well as pollution of the land and bodies of water near their barangays.
To support their fear and complaint, a group of residents showed me voluminous documents from the MGB that detail how SRMI, along with its two other sister companies, San R. Mining and Galeo Equipment and Mining Corp., use hazardous mining methods.
They also showed that SRMI group’s operations have no proper rehabilitation plan, lack of proper drainage system and lack of water treatment.
They also complained about the Gutierrez companies’[ failure to relocate displaced families and the illegal closure of farm-to-market roads for the “private use” of the mine workers.
While there were earlier reports that SRMI had paid “revolutionary taxes” to the New People’s Army (NPA) to prevent a repeat of a previous NPA raid, Tubay Mayor Fidel Garcia, Jr. also confirmed that Gutierrez’s mining firms have no business permits, depriving the poor municipality millions of pesos in revenues.
Garcia claimed that the Gutierrez-Erice tandem used the Philippine National Police (PNP) as “goons” to block the enforcement of a closure order he ordered against SRMI mining sites.
The town executive also said he has repeatedly asked the DENR main office to stop the mining operations but no sanctions were ever imposed.
“It looks like this will continue as long as PNoy and his cronies remain in power,” Garcia was quoted as saying.
I must admit that I share their pessimism about any chance for stopping those culprits if Noynoy and his heir to the throne are blinded by the glitter of campaign fund donations!
Needless to say, the 2016 elections campaign dawns upon us in a few months.
Looks like PNoy’s Tuwid na Daan was funded by crooked and illegal mining, after all.