Eastern Samar residents block entry of Panama vessel during coronavirus lockdown

MANILA, Philippines – A Panama-registerted cargo vessel linked to a Philippine mining company attempted to dock twice in Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, despite a lockdown prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.  

The MV VW Peace, manned by crew from China and Myanmar, was turned away after residents alerted local officials of its presence, prompting 8 barangay captains to sign a resolution banning the entry of the vessel into the island. 

The incident was first raised by the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc, a network of faith based non-governmental organizations. The group said residents expressed concern over the vessel’s activity after it was first spotted on Saturday, April 4 and again on Monday, April 6. 

The vessel was supposed to transport chromite ore from Homonhon Island after mining company Techiron Resources Inc secured a mineral ore expert permit (MOEP) from the Eastern Visayas Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last March 31.  

The permit, valid for one month, was issued despite a provincial executive order banning "all entries of non-residents into the provincial coastlines, regardless of origin." 

Residents on alert 

In an interview with Rappler, Guiuan resident Karl Montes said the incident should not have occurred as business should follow quarantine measures and prioritize the public’s health before trying to operate.  

Barangay Pagbabangnan official Wenifredo Gapate Jr likewise criticized the actions of the mining company and called them out for prioritizing business operations over following strict physical distancing measures during the lockdown. 

“They made the wrong move, despite many concerns due to the broadening of COVID-19 infections, we are forever vigilant,” Gapate said in a statement. 

Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone had elevated the issue to Environment Undersecretary Mitch Cuna, saying the permit given to the MV VW Peace and mining company would violate quarantine protocols during the outbreak. 

The move resulted in the MGB suspending its earlier permit allowing the company to export chromite ore. 

“The shipment covered by MOEP No. 2020-01 is advised to be delayed and the MOEP is temporarily suspended,” MGB Eastern Visayas Director  Leo Juguan said in a letter to the company obtained by Rappler. 

Juguan said the company will only be allowed to proceed with its export operations once the coronavirus crisis was over. 

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The Department of Health  confirmed on April 7 there was already local transmission of the disease in the Eastern Visayas region where Eastern Samar is located. 

As of Friday, April 10, the Philippine listed 4,195 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, including 221 deaths and 140 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.