MANILA, Philippines – Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (Altai) chief executive officer Stephen Cascolan stood by the legality of their mining exploration activities on Sibuyan Island, Romblon, despite their destructive impact on the environment.
“By nature po ang mina po talaga ay destructive, pero legal po,” Cascolan said in an interview with TeleRadyo on Tuesday, May 23. (By nature, mining is destructive, but it is legal.)
Furthermore, he said, the whole process is supported by the Philippine government, as manifested by the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement granted to Altai. MPSA is the permit that allows a company to conduct mining operations.
Cascolan explained: “Destructive kasi po may extraction, kukunin po natin ‘yung lupa at ang minerals sa lupa. Nasisira po, pero may rehabilitation at meron pong scientific approach po sa pagmimina na kinikilala po ng Philippine government.”
(Mining is destructive because there is extraction. We’re getting minerals from the earth. The environment is damaged, but there is a rehabilitation plan in place and there is a scientific approach to mining recognized by the Philippine government.)
Critics have to understand the workings of the industry before they condemn, Cascolan said. If anything, they are concerned if their company is committing violations against the law.
Asked if Altai has committed any violations, Cascolan said, “Misinformation lang po ‘yung sinasabi na ang dami-daming violations ng company.” (That the company has a lot of violations, that’s only misinformation.)
Who’s to blame for the cutting of trees?
One of the violations Altai allegedly committed is the cutting of trees in Sitio Bato, Barangay España.
The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the temporary halt of Altai’s operations because of this violation, as well as the lack of an environmental compliance certificate for constructing a causeway project.
Cascolan said Sibuyan has had a long history with illegal logging. Because of “slow response” from the DENR Mimaropa, this issue, as well as illegal small-scale mining operations, only came to light when Altai’s operations started.
“Gusto po naming makita ang ebidensiya para masagot nang tama,” he said.(We want to see the evidence so that issue will be resolved.)
However, Cascolan did not categorically say that their company did not cut down the trees: “Nandoon po ‘yung posibilidad hangga’t lumabas ang ebidensiya…na illegal loggers po ang nagputol ng kahoy.” (There’s a possibility, until evidence shows that illegal loggers are to blame.)
Living Laudato Si Philippines executive director Rodne Galicha maintained that the burden of proof lies on Altai.
According to Galicha, satellite images in 2022 showed that the forest was still existent, but as of April 2023, there was deforestation already as seen in images.
Lies and credibility
Cascolan decried the “misinformation” spread by some individuals and groups regarding Altai operations. These violations and their alleged continuation of operations are mere lies, he said.
He specifically pointed at Galicha. “Ang categorical answer po ay sinungaling po si Rodne Galicha. Kasi hindi po tuloy-tuloy ang pag-transport at pag-extract ng ore,” Cascolan said. (Rodne Galicha is a liar. We had stopped transportation and extraction of ore.)
He explained that Altai had yielded to the DENR’s order to stop operations temporarily. If there were images shown around of a stockpile covered by canvas, he said, that was the nickel ore they collected before the order was handed down by the environment department.
Environmental groups and advocates have raised eyebrows over the memorandum of cooperation the mining company signed with Sibuyan civil society organizations.
Advocates say the leaders who signed on behalf of sectors in Sibuyan were “not representative” of their calls.
As an example, one indigenous person who signed on behalf of Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid was “not authorized to represent the whole community of the indigenous people of Sibuyan,” Galicha said in a TeleRadyo interview on Wednesday, May 24.
Twenty-two members of the group denounced the memorandum of cooperation in a joint tribal resolution dated April 27, 2023.
Sibuyan residents recently camped outside the DENR main office and held a prayer vigil. They are seeking an audience with officials to make their case that Altai’s MPSA should be cancelled. – Rappler.com
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