Mamanwa tribe perform ritual to lift mine suspension order
MANILA, Philippines – The shrill cries of a dying pig cut through the din of vehicular traffic along Visayas Avenue, Quezon City on Wednesday, December 4.
Blood dripped from the knife still embedded in its neck, making red circles bloom on the concrete sidewalk, as a Mamanwa baylan (native priest) danced to the sound of gongs and drank the pig's blood from a clear glass.
All this was part of an elaborate prayer ritual conducted by Mamanwa tribal leaders in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) head office.
They came to ask Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno to lift the cease-and-desist order (CDO) against a gold mining company that used to operate in their ancestral domain in Siana, Surigao del Norte.
"Nahihirapan kami sa CDO dahil hindi namin matuloy yung mga programa sa edukasyon, kalusugan, pangkabuhayan at imprastraktura. Yung pera galing sa mina, para sa kaunlaran sana ng bawat komunidad ng tribong Mamanwa," said Mario Labao, a member of the Mamanwa tribe.
(We are having a hard time with the CDO because we cannot push through with our programs in education, health, livelihood and infrastructure. The money from the mines should be used for the development of communities of the Mamanwa tribe.)
Last week, 500 Siana locals protested the CDO in front of the MGB regional office in Surigao City. About 1,000 locals also signed a petition.
The CDO was imposed on Greenstone Resources Corporation last June 6 after the mining company reported a crack in the outer wall of its tailings pond, a facility in the mine where toxic waste water is stored.
Because of the CDO, mining operations have been stopped as well as the release of money supposed to go to the Mamanwa tribe as claimants of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).
The money, projected to be around P16 million, is the rental fee paid by GRC to the tribe because 7 hectares of its mine belong to the Mamanwa.
The cracked tailings pond is 8 meters from Magpayang River and is fortified by a 30-meter-thick dike, according to GRC's general manager Aurelio Espeja.
He and Mamanwa leader Datu Alfredo Surigao – who used to work for GRC – insist that waste water did not spill through the crack.
Nonetheless, GRC voluntarily suspended operations and immediately implemented measures to fix the crack.
"We totally stopped operations. We lowered the water in the tailings pond and put an emergency bund wall in case of a spill. Then we informed the respective agencies like DENR and MGB. We asked guidance from the directors although we had mitigation measures in place," Espeja told Rappler in a phone interview.
On May 29, all remediation work to restore the integrity and stability of the cracked tailings pond was completed by GRC with the help of internationally-recognized engineering specialists Knight Piesold, GHD, and Golders.
Eight days after, MGB imposed the CDO as a "precautionary measure."
To date, 6 months after the CDO was imposed, no assessment report and decision on the CDO has been released to GRC and the Mamanwa tribe.
The long wait has severely affected the tribal communities, said Labao.
In a handwritten appeal to Paje and Jasareno, 5 tribal leaders wrote, "Lampas anim na buwan nang walang trabaho ang mga myembro namin dahil sila ay na temporary lay-off… Sa dumaang bagyo at sa panahon ngayon ng tag-ulan, malaking tulong ang pera na galing sa mina."
(It's been more than 6 months that our members have been unemployed because of the temporary lay-off. After the past storm and during the rainy season, the money from the mine is a great help.)
Mamanwa youth who depended on scholarships funded by the mine payment are now unable to go to school. A planned rice cooperative to allow the community to buy rice at cheaper prices has now been shelved. Projects that were supposed to create sustainable livelihood opportunities beyond the mining operations now lack funds.
To travel to Manila to perform the ritual, the chieftains had to borrow money from nearby villages.
Slow, unfair process
Imposing the CDO was unfair and the process too slow, complained Espeja.
MGB skipped steps in the process, making the need for a CDO questionable, he claimed.
"I have worked in the MGB regional office for 10 years and I know the CDO process. in We should've been called to a technical conference right after the incident. CDO can only be issued after you have established threat to life and property. But before that was established, there was already a CDO."
Instead, the technical conference was held in September, 5 months after the crack was reported by GRC.
But Jasareno said the urgency of the situation called for a CDO.
"The issuance of the suspension order is precautionary to avoid any chance of a repeat of the Philex tailings spill. It was recommended by the MGB Regional Office because of the observed threat of the crack of the dam to the environment. It was an urgent situation."
But he gave assurances that the MGB is finishing its assessment and should decide on whether to lift the CDO or not soon.
"Validation was conducted only last week. As we speak, we are just waiting for the report."
Meanwhile, GRC investors have become "wary" because of the perceived risk brought about by the CDO.
About P3.5 million of monthly salary to employed locals are gone, estimated the tribal leaders. Incidents of theft, petty crime and illegal small-scale mining operations have also increased and is linked to livelihood opportunities, they added.
In Visayas Avenue, the Mamanwa chieftains hoped the sacrificial pig's death was not in vain. Having done everything they could to ask for the lifting of the CDO, this was their last resort. – Rappler.com