Greener than Green
Under the care and maintenance of a mining company, a remote mining community in Zamboanga del Norte has emerged greener than it has ever been.
When Philex Gold Philippines Incorporated (PGPI) was exploring Sitio Lalab, in Barangay Libay, Sibutad, Zamboanga del Norte in the early 90s, the environment back then was evident of old farming practice of swidden method or slash and burn farming (kaingin), and wanton felling of trees for shanties or log cabins. Pitch in some illegal small-scale mining activities, and then you get the whole picture of what cogon grass-covered Lalab was before the entrance of Philex Mining.
Of the 3,515 hectares covered by the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), only 1% or 38 hectares have been utilized during its mine-related activities from 1997 to 1999, while 4% or 144.51 hectares have been forested with about 444,621 trees. Further, 20 hectares of shoreline have also been planted with 132,500 mangrove propagules.
Lilia Lagudas, has lived since childhood at the Municipality of Sibutad. Now at the prime of her life, Lilia dutifully performs her function as the Chairperson of Barangay Libay, one of the Project’s impact barangays.
Her house sits just near the Libay pantalan or wharf. From there, by the Murcielagos Bay, you can see the grand view of Sitio Lalab and Mt. Emily. “Ako gayud nga ingnan ang mga tawo ng moingon nga gipasagdan sa Philex ang Lalab. Sukad sa una nga bata pa ako, daan na nga upaw ang bungtod. Wala kini’y mga kahoy ug naputos lang sa nipis nga kakognan. Karon green na gayud sukad nga ania na nag-operate ang Philex. Daghan na ug mga kahoy nga sa una dili gayud motubo kay lagi batuhon man ang klase sa yuta (I really talk to people who say that Philex just took for granted Sitio Lalab. Since childhood, the mountains have been barren. There were no trees back
hen and was only covered with a thin layer of cogon grass. Now, the mountains are green ever since Philex came to operate. There are lots of trees now, that years ago won’t ever thrive in the area due
to its rocky type of soil),” Lilia explained.
The Sibutad Project was commenced after the passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, otherwise known as the Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7942, which mandates mining companies to have its Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan (FMRDP) in place even before it starts operation. The law requires large- scale mining companies that FMRDP funds shall be put in a government depository bank with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and a Multi-partite Monitoring Team as co-depositors. This ensures that funds are readily available for such purpose.
Since the Sibutad Project ceased operations, Lilia’s constituents went back to fishing, their traditional source of living being a coastal barangay. But since the fish supply has depleted, due to illegal fishing methods and increased number of fisher folks, the yield is barely enough to support their families.
Some, Lilia added, turned to small- scale mining activities, operating outside the MPSA area of Philex. These illegal and unregulated mining activities are oftentimes the cause of soil erosion in the area. “Makita nato mga malubog ang dagat gumikan sa mga aktibidades sa small scale. Kung adunay panghitabo nga may kalambigitan sa environment, kami nga taga-diri mismo kahibalo kung kinsa ang angay pasanginlan, dili ang kompanya (We can see that there are soil erosions, which result to a murky sea due to small scale mining activities. If some environmental calamity ever happens, we, who are from this place, know who are to blame and it is not the Company),” Lilia said.
For Edil Lagudas, Lilia’s son and also the Chairman of Barangay Magsaysay (another impact barangay of the Sibutad Project), a significant difference of Sibutad’s environmental picture is clear. That is, the place has never been greener if not for Philex Mining. “We can clearly spot and compare the areas within and outside the MPSA of Philex. The one with the lush yellow-green trees is where Philex used to operate and the bald parts of the mountains is the natural attribute of Lalab and Mt. Emily,” Edil said while standing on his lawn facing the mountains.
Edil was once a load “checker” of Philex during its operation and knows about the care and maintenance program of the company through upland environmental protection activities. “We know what really is happening and what is the truth. We are from here and we can see it with our own eyes,” Edil declared.
When Edil learned that Philex has plans of conducting further exploration activities for the eventual reopening of the Sibutad Project, hope within his heart soared. “Not for me, but for my constituents,” he said. “Direct and indirect jobs will be available and business will again flourish in the area. If one has work, he can have the buying power, establishments will have more clients as well as the transport business.”
Project OIC Engr. Ramil Mundo explained the progressive rehabilitation program of the company. “There are areas especially at the Heap Leach Pond that are still undergoing slope stabilization, though the remaining area is less than a hectare. We take out the ‘lining’ one at a time and proceed with tree planting. In no time, all areas will be covered with lush green trees,” he explained.
Lalab for now has become an attraction for foreign and local tourists sailing by the Murcielagos Bay.
What used to be barren mountaintops and sparse mangrove areas are now lush fields of green. Through its assiduous forestation and coastal enhancement programs, Philex Mining has made Sibutad greener than it has ever been.