IN PHOTOS: The red mountain
SURIGAO DEL SUR, Philippines – “The red mountain” is known throughout the Surigao del Sur and del Norte coastline. The noticeable red dirt from the mountain ranges gave rise to its name, but it took sometime for Surigaonons to realize what it actually meant: that these mountain ranges hold one of the richest nickel deposits in the world.
Today, nickel mining is a billion-peso earner for local and national governments, with several companies operating in Surigao del Norte, including the Taganito plant which processes low grade ore into high grade nickel for the Japanese market. The Surigao region is host to 10 mining companies.
This part of Mindanao is in now referred to as the nickel mining capital of the Philippines.
Indeed, the “red mountain” continues to be bright red as mining companies in the Surigao provinces have stripped the mountains of their green canopy, digging up the earth for huge profits.
Traveling from Tandag City to Cantilan town gives any traveler a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. The rice fields add to the color and texture of the sight.
But these natural resources are in danger of destruction with the encroachment of nickel mining into the Del Sur portion of Surigao, according to anti-mining advocates.
The paradise that we once saw in previous years now looks like a vast desert. And local residents say the "raping" of the earth continues.
As you make a left turn from Cantilan town into the mining town of Carrascal, the highway suddenly turns blood red from the dust of the mining operations of Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation. The company mines nickel in the watershed of Cantilan in the Barrio of Cabangahan, Cantilan.
Anti-mining groups have opposed the permit given to MMDC as the watershed drains into the Carac-an river, which irrigates the rice fields of Cantilan, Madrid and Carmen.
Siltation from the mining operation threatens to kill the river and ultimately the rice fields, they added. (READ: Mining in Surigao del Sur: Soil of life, soil of death)
In Surigao Del Notre, siltation is already apparent in the pristine waters of the Pacific ocean, which thousands of fishermen depend on for their livelihood.
The problem becomes more pressing because of the coming May 2016 elections.
A prominent supporter of mining are the Pimentels, led by the incumbent governor of Surigao del Sur, Governor Johnny Pimentel, who filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) to run for representative of the province's second district under the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
Clarence Pimentel, brother of Carrascal town mayor Vicente Pimentel Jr, is listed as the managing official/president of CTP Construction and Mining Corporation, which has operations in Adlay and Dahican in Carrascal. Vicente Pimentel Jr filed his COC to run for governor of Surigao del Sur, also under the LP.
Anti-mining advocates also said that the Pichays are key supporters of mining in the region, led by former congressman Prospero "Butch" Pichay. A brother of Pichay, Philip, filed his COC for Tandag mayor.
Indeed, mining continues to divide the community, pitting those who benefit from it against those who experience, day to day, its disadvantages. (READ: How can mining work in the Philippines?)
Will this be a key campaign issue for 2016?
Residents said they hope it will be – so their voices could be heard.
Alex Baluyut is a veteran photojournalist and sometimes a volunteer food aid provider with the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen or ARMK.