Keeping our Forests Better than Mining Coal

To get a better picture of how our island province of Catanduanes will fare even under conditions of the so-called responsible mining espoused by giant companies like the newcomer Altura Mining Limited, let us take a look at the present operation of Rapu-Rapu Minerals, Inc. (RRMI) and Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project (RRPP).

With its avowed commitment to responsible mining and processing towards sustainable development, both firms presented to the small Albay island’s people the following diagram:

Readers should note that the mining and processing operation is spread out over at least 100 hectares of the mountain above existing residential areas. Imagine 100 hectares of forest in Caramoran, Bagamanoc and Panganiban cleared of trees for Altura’s coal-mining project.

For all the promises of the project proponents and supporters both in the national and local governments, there is little to show that the mining project has actually benefited Rapu-Rapu residents and lifted their lives from poverty. From 2005 to 2011, the island’s mining firm reportedly produced over P43 billion, or exactly P43,360,623.47, worth of precious minerals. From this stupendous sum, RRPP and RRMI paid the national government around P798 million in taxes Under the law, local government units – Albay and Rapu-Rapu – are supposed to get a share of 75 percent or P598 million. The mining oppositors ask: where did all this money go when Rapu-Rapu remains poor as ever?

The very same question could very well be asked of Altura, assuming it begins operation without vehement objections from Catandunganons, and its local supporters five years hence.

In the case of the high-grade sub-bituminous coal from Catanduanes favored by power plants, our reserve of 1.2 million tons of coal could be worth P5 billion today at the present price of US$100 per metric ton. That would be a lot of money, not only for Altura and its partners, but also for LGU officials whose coffers could be stuffed with their P75 million share in the excise taxes for just five years. And this does not even include the potential income they can get from the precious narra and other hardwood to be felled during the mining operation.

Indeed, there is money to be had in the proposed Altura mining project, but only for the operator, its investors, certain local businessmen who would deal with the company, and the usual shady characters in government, not to mention armed men on both sides of the ideological divide.

Rapu-rapu mine site

Catanduanes is a mountainous island ecosystem listed among the 20 provinces most susceptible to landslides, and anything bad that happens to its 60,000 hectares of forest land, including the 5,000 hectares that remain of its virgin forest, will seriously affect its people, flora and fauna. A hundred hectares in the forested boundaries of Caramoran, Bagamanoc and Panganiban, shorn of trees, mined for its coal and with mine tailings possibly contaminating rivers, streams and other water sources, will not be representative of the island paradise that we Catandunganons boast of to the rest of the world.

In the country’s experience, responsible mining does not guarantee that mining firms would be responsible for anything bad that could happen. We only need to see what happened in Marinduque in 1996, when a mine tailings spill led to the death of Boac river and the poisoning of both land and sea, to know the truth.

Seventy-five million pesos over five years cannot pay for the destruction of even a hundred hectares of life-sustaining forest, even if the people makes sure the money will not be stolen by thieves in government.

Source: Editorial, Catanduanes Tribune