SANTA CRUZ, Zambales: Mining activists claimed that the volume of mountain soil in this town that was lost and transported out of the country by mining firms may have reached 66.64 million dry metric tons over the last eight years, destroying farmlands, river and roads and causing asthma and other pulmonary diseases to the residents.
The alleged destruction brought about by massive operations by these mining firms supposedly has been documented by affected residents.
Benito Molino, chairman of Concerned Citizens of Zambales, said since 2008, four mining companies have been given extraction permits and allowed by the government to haul a maximum of 8.5 million dry metric tons of nickel or 170 shiploads every year.
These mining firms – Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines Inc. (BNMI), Zambales Diversified Metals Inc. (ZDMC), LnL Archipelago Minerals Inc. (LAMI) and Eramen Minerals Inc. (EMI) – are operating in the northernmost towns of Santa Cruz and Candelaria.
Molino said of the haul, only 3.4 shiploads are nickel and 166.6 are mountain soil.
“The grade of nickel laterite hauled from the mountains of Santa Cruz amounts to 1.5-2 percent while the soil is 98-98.5 percent,” he told The Manila Times.
Molino said based on permits given by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the total maximum haul per year is 8.5 million tons—BNMI, 3 million; ZDMC, 3 million; LAMI, 1 million; and EMI, 1.5 million.
A ton is a unit of weight (mass) equivalent to 2,240 pounds (long ton) or 2,000 pounds (short ton) or 1,000 kilograms (one metric ton).
The price of one ton of nickel ore-laden soil differs depending on its grade, Molino said.
“The price of 0.9-1.0 percent nickel ore is about US$34.00,” he added.
Based on their computation, a cargo ship can load up to 50,000 metric tons of which 49,000 metric tons are soil.
Molino estimated that if the four mining companies were given permit to bring down a total of 8.5 million dry metric tons (DMT) each year since 2008, some 8.33 DMT or 166.6 shiploads of mountain soil could have been lost each year.
“If the mining companies were operating full-time for eight years, is it possible that some 1,363 shiploads or 66.64 DMT of mountain soil from Santa Cruz were already lost,” he said.
In May 2012, some 56 farmers from Sitio Pawo, Barangay Lomboy and Guisguis, Barangay Tubo-tubo Norte and Tubo-tubo Sur pooled their complaints against ill effects of nickel extractions and documented and submitted them to Ramon Paje, then-secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Of the more than 100 hectares of farmlands with irrigation covered by the extractions permitted by the MGB, according to the farmers, more than 50 hectares became unsuitable for planting rice.
Fish in rivers, creeks and shorelines turned scarce, they said.
The farmers also blamed the mining firms for main and secondary roads becoming muddy during rainy season and dusty during the summer and river and sea water becoming reddish during the rainy season.
Many barangay (villages) that used to be unaffected by heavy rains, they said, became prone to flooding.
The massive mining operations, according to the farmers, also saw a rise in cases of asthma and other pulmonary diseases.
The Concerned Citizens of Santa Cruz said 10 of the 13 towns in the province are being mined and there are a total of 16 mining companies with permits from the MGB.
Twelve of these companies are operating in the northernmost towns of Zambales, with nine operating in Santa Cruz.
Of the nine, five have extraction permits and four have exploration permits.
Meanwhile, according to Molino, there is no direct evidence that will show that the lost mountain soil from the town was used in reclamation of Bajo de Masinloc or other Chinese-claimed areas in the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
But he speculated that the same thing could have happened to the nickel ore-laden soil from the mountains of Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Zamboanga, Eastern Samar and other parts of the country that were reportedly transported to China.
Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso earlier told The Manila Times about Chinese military presence in a reclaimed area near the Scarborough Shoal.
“The Chinese military is based at an airport built by China at the reclaimed area near the Scarborough Shoal, which was built out of the mountain soil of Santa Cruz,” Deloso said.
The shoal is 85 kilometers from the town of Santa Cruz and some 65 kilometers from the town of Masinloc.