MACARTHUR, Leyte- Sixty-three year old Alfredo Cordero has been longing to go back to his farm and resume planting rice after supertyphoon Yolanda destroyed his crops last year but could no longer do so.
He blamed the mining operations at their barangay in Maya, once one of the rice-producing villages of their town.
“Because of this mining, I could no longer go to work. These numbness and itchiness on my feet caused me to retreat from going to my farm,” Cordero said as he alleges that what he was suffering on his feet is “due to the water coming from the mine” when the company fixed the water line going to his farmland.
He, however, says that he has yet to see a doctor to check on how bad is the condition of his feet.
Thelma Palana, mother of five children, also said that she lost her livelihood due to the same mining activities in her village.
“Our problem here is mining. We cannot go on planting because of the water coming from the mine. Even if the rain is little, the water coming from the mine overflows to our farm and our vegetables are being flooded,” Palana said pointing to the same black sand mining operation right in the middle of a farmland which according to her, also started from the neighboring village of Pongon.
“What will happen to our children when this farm area will turn into sand in the future” asked the two.
Bernardita Morcilla, 67, who acted as a leader of the farmers on their complaints, identified the different mining groups in Mac Arthur as RT (in Maya), Nicua and Leyte Iron Sand Corporation (in Pongon) and Strong Belt Mining Development Corporation (in San Pedro).
Morcilla, secretary-general of Unahin Lagi Natin ang Diyos – Bito Lake Fisher folks Association (UNLAD-BLFA), also get the support of nationwide alliance of anti-mining groups Alyansa Tigil Mina.
“We suffered during Yolanda; now we are facing another suffering due to the mining. Two planting seasons have already passed yet our farmers were not able to farm because of them. Some of the roads leading to our farms are no longer accessible to us. Their coming here brought only destruction, ”Morcila said, also recalling the fish kill brought by another Nicua mine company in Lake Bito in the village of Imelda in MacArthur last 2012 which killed around 22 tons of tilapia worth about P1.87 million.
Nicua has ceased its operation, Morcilla said.
“But we have heard that these mining are just using other names so they can continue their activities in our town.”
“We don’t have coconuts anymore, we don’t have food, and we even lost our fishes. Do they want us to die here?” she asked.
Nilo Cordero, farmer and a village councilor who also opposed the mining, said that in his village in Maya alone, about 150 households are being affected by the mining.
He added that their village has not yet issued any approval and conducted consultation with the people on the mining activities in their area.
In the neighboring village of San Pedro, Maribel Pulga, 32, said that the mining is operating in their area “without conducting public consultation.”
“The former village captain told me that they have issued resolution on the mining before yet only for its installation,” said Pulga, noting that the mine activities in the area have been ongoing for the past five years already.
“I am not sure that my two children will finish school. I know one of them may be turned into fishing or farming, the reason I am fighting for this. I hope mining will stop here,” Pulga appealed.
Nonita Caguioa, officer-in-charge of Mines Environment and Safety Division at the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said that farmer and fisher folk need not to worry “because the mine company is compliant.”
“We haven’t heard any problem on the environment. Every now and then, we visited the area to check them. What they are mining now is only small. The 10 hectares for one year will not even be finished by the company,” said Caguioa, adding that the region should have been grateful to them because they have contributed during the clearing operations and the recovery and rehabilitation after Yolanda through their heavy equipment “free of charge from the government.”
The MGB official said that the mining companies did not terminated their workers after Yolanda and even gave them assistance.
Caguioa said that despite receiving many mine applications, the region only have “about three medium scale mining operating here.”
“We have about 20 applicants for mineral production joint agreement. Yet those operational are only about three. Why? Because of its declaration of mining project feasibility, which is difficult to get.”
Caguioa said that those given mining permits are operating in Eastern Samar and in Leyte with the rest are doing sand and gravel extractions.
The mining company granted permit to operate in Leyte is the Strong Belt mining in San Pedro, MacArthur. It was granted permit to mine 2,000 hectares.
“But what they can mine in a year time is less than ten hectares. That is the contract entered by the government thru Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with that company with duration of 25 years,” the MGB official said.
Asked if the farmers are right calling for the suspension of mining activities in their town, Caguioa said she has one answer for it, saying: “If ever it will be stopped, tell me if there is a good company that can give jobs outright aside from mining company?”
Meanwhile, in reaction to Leyte Samar Daily Express inquiry to the Malacanang Palace on the need for suspension of mining in Yolanda-hit Leyte, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., said that the Nicua has been suspended to conduct any mining operation in Leyte.
“First, only one company is authorized to undertake mining of black sand in Leyte, this is Strong built Mining. The black sand mining of Nicua is suspended for about two years now while the DENR did not approve the application of another company, Explosives Consultation, pending result of assessment of any contribution of any black sand mining to the impact of Yolanda,” Coloma said in a phone interview. (RONALD O.REYES)