Filtered By: News

Agusan Norte officials, town folk urge nickel miner to go

(Updated 12:00 p.m.) BUTUAN CITY — The Agusan del Norte Provincial Board has endorsed the petition of the Sangguniang Bayan of Tubay urging Pres. Benigno Aquino III to order San Roque Metals Inc. (SRMI) to stop its mining operations in that coastal town surrounding Butuan bay. The provincial board passed on Nov. 15 Sanggunian Resolution No. 117-2010, supporting an earlier town council resolution passed on Aug. 2, to oppose SRMI’s mining operations in Barangay La Fraternidad, Tubay. The local government of Tubay also asked for the cancellation of the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of the company for its alleged failure to pay municipal taxes and business fees since 2008, which now amount to around P100 million. An MPSA grants the company the right to the mineral resources, while the contractor provides the financing, technology and personnel to carry out the agreement. The Tubay government likewise claimed SRMI has also been unable to pay extraction fees amounting to P119.94 million, which include 25 percent surcharge and penalties, for large-scale mining operations from September 2008 to September 2010 The five-page resolution was sent for endorsement to Malacañang and to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and other concerned government agencies. "We are endorsing their [La Fraternidad, Tubay officials] complaint to the President for him to evaluate," Agusan del Norte Vice Gov. Enrico Corvera said. The endorsement came after a series of consultations and public hearings conducted by the environment committee of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) chaired by Board member Joseph Tomaneng. The committee held the public hearings to validate complaints filed by residents and officials of Barangay La Fraternidad and the municipal officials of Tubay. "There is a valid reason to endorse the complaint," Tomaneng said. SRMI, established in 2005, is a wholly Filipino-owned company operating some 572 hectares of nickel mines in Tubay. Monies owed A tribal group of Tubay that had signed a memorandum of agreement with SRMI, allowing the latter to conduct mining operations, has also complained that the mining firm has not paid them the 1 percent royalty fees, which it owed the group for the period September 2008-December 2009. The back dues amounted to millions of pesos. The group was identified as the Accredited Tribal Sectoral Leaders of Indigenous Cultural Communities of Tubay. Under the social development provisions of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), at least 1 percent of the gross revenues from mining on ancestral lands should go to the indigenous communities that own those lands. The same law also stipulates that 10 percent of the gross income of mining companies should go to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to be allotted for special projects for the community that hosts the mining operations. The implementing rules of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA Law) also require mining companies to allot a portion of their earnings to the tribal groups that own the lands on which they operate. In a letter to SRMI owner Francisco Enrico Gutierrez in July, eight tribal leaders headed by Datu Ambongan Lito Manlubatan claimed that according to records they obtained from the MGB, the company had earned P2.9 billion in the 15 months to December 2009. In an interview with GMANews.TV, Tubay Mayor Sadeka Garcia Tomaneng said “mining activities affected not only rice-producing lands of Tubay [because of] the silting of irrigation canals, but vegetable farmers and fisher folk have also complained about destructive mining activities." Health risks Las August, more than 3,000 residents of barangays Lawigan, Victory, Tagpangahoy, Binuangan, Cabayawa, Doña Rosario, Poblacion 1, Poblacion 2, Santa Ana, Tagmamarkay, Tagpangahoy, Tinigbasan and Doña Telesfora, apart from La Fraternidad where the operations are located, signed petitions to stop SRMI’s mining operations. In the 117-page petition letters and resolutions, villagers opposed the mining operations which they said not only polluted and destroyed their villages, but also posed immediate danger to the health of town residents. An official report of the Tubay Municipal Planning and Development Office claimed that there was an increase in the number of townspeople suffering from acute respiratory ailments, allegedly caused by dust from mining operations, as well as an increase in the cases of diarrhea, skin ailments and parasitism. The report also said that about 115 families displaced by mining operations in Sitio Kapuk-an, Barangay La Fraternidad were not relocated properly, even when the mining firm had promised to give them decent housing. SRMI denies allegations Officials of the SRMI, which include a city vice mayor and a city councilor, however, denied the allegations. In a press conference Friday, SRMI director and Caloocan City Vice Mayor Edgar Erice said the P120-million extraction fees demanded by the Tubay government have no legal basis. “Their continuing clamor for us to pay such [a] huge amount has no legal basis because it is not provided by the Mining Act or R.A. 7942 which governs all LGUs in the country hosting mining companies" said Erice, who is also a lawyer. Erice explained scale mining operators like them are not charged extraction fees, as under the Mining Act only excise taxes on mineral products, not extraction fees, constitute the total government share in an MPSA. Erice added that since SRMI already pays excise taxes to the national government as provided by law, it would be double taxation if SRMI would also pay again the local government. “It seems that we only exist and tire ourselves all the while for mining only to pay all these caprices of government taxes and fees and nothing for our hundreds of workers who toiled much for SRMI," Erice said. He added that while LGUs (Local Government Units) are empowered by the Local Government Code to adjust tax rates. Such power also has its limits as tax adjustments can only be done once in five years and the increase should not exceed 10 percent of the existing tax rates. Erice claimed the provincial government has increased mining fees in separate ordinances to more than 100 percent, from P12 per metric ton in 2004 to as much as P25 in 2007. He said these increases were made the basis of the LGU’s demand of P120 million in extraction fees. Official probe in company’s favor Ryan Anthony Culima, SRMI vice president for community relations, likewise belied the allegations against the company, saying these are "not true and baseless." In a text message, Culima claimed that the resolutions of both the Agusan del Norte Provincial Board and the Tubay Municipal Council had no basis because a probe by a combined government and non-government team had results that ran counter to the allegations raised against the mining firm. Culima, who is also a councilor of Butuan City, said that the MGB did not find any environmental violations against the company during its recent inspection "because we are adhering to all environmental preservation and forest protection." A government official also said initial findings of a multi-partite monitoring team (MMT), composed of the local offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and its attached agencies — the Environment Management Bureau (EMB), Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) and other concerned government and non-government agencies — showed that the mining company did not violate any environmental laws. EMB Assistant Regional Director Rey Degamo said the MMT has already ended its investigation, but the official could not furnish GMANews.TV with a copy of the probe’s results. Protesting residents alleged that MMT members were brought on an all-expense-paid trip to the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Project in Palawan, where they were showed how “clean mining" techniques could be employed. Small-scale permit, large-scale mining In 2006, SRMI began operating in La Fraternidad on a small-scale mining permit despite opposition from village folk, environment groups, and religious groups headed by the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tubay. However, a fleet of articulated trucks, excavators, drilling machines, loaders and other mining equipment currently allows the company to move up to 100,000 tons of ore per day, SRMI said. Its mine site in La Fraternidad is covered by a 25-year agreement — MPSA — involving some 570 hectares which contain nickel deposits of at least 30 million tons of validated ore reserves. However, due to the low price of nickel ore in the world market, the company has slowed down its operations in the past months. — With Jerrie Abella/DM/VS, GMANews.TV