Marcventures Mining responds to articles on environmental harm

MANILA, Philippines – Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC) has demanded that Rappler take down an article about its mining activities in Surigao del Sur.

MMDC, through its law firm, Villaraza & Angangco, listed its grievances regarding the article “Mining in Surigao del Sur: Soil of life, soil of death” written by Rappler reporter Pia Ranada. 

The letter sent to Rappler, dated September 15, concluded with a demand that Rappler “remove the Rappler Article from its website and issue an apology and/or retraction of the foregoing articles. In the alternative, MMDC requests that this letter be published in the Rappler website in equal prominence with the Rappler article.”

We are not taking down the article. Instead, we are publishing the letter in full, along with responses to each of MMDC’s grievances.

Here is the complete text of the letter (photos can be viewed in the PDF version of the letter found in this article):

Dear Ms. Ressa:

We write in behalf of our clients, MARCVENTURES MINING AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION (“MMDC”), in connection with the article entitled “Minng in Surigao del Sur: Soil of life, soil of death” (the “Rappler Article”), written by Ms. Pia Ranada, and which was published on 01 August 2015 on the website of Rappler, Inc. (“Rappler”).

In the Rappler Article, Ms. Ranada attributed the “source of malevolent discoloration” of the waters around the coast of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur to the mines operated by MMDC in Carrascal and Cantilan, Surigao del Sur. Ms. Ranada likewise claimed that MMDC cut down trees in an established watershed. 

It should be noted, however, that on 02 August 2015, or the day after the Rappler Article was published in the Rappler website, an article entitled “Small Town Takes On Big Mines” (the “Sun Star Article”), written by Ms. Stella A. Estremera, was published in the Sun Star website. What is clear is that at or about the very same time, Ms. Ranada and Ms. Estremera apparently wrote two (2) different articles involving the same thing – articles making it appear that MMDC caused damage to the environment. 

In the said Sun Star Article, Ms. Estremera similarly insinuated that floodwaters which “killed the rice plants and rendered the rice fields infertile” was supposedly caused by the mining operations of MMDC. She likewise insinuates that MMDC’s mining activities caused pollution of the waters of General island. Taken in its entirety, Ms. Estremera’s Sun Star Article attributes the alleged environmental degradations in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur to the mining activities of MMDC. Ms Estremera likewise imputed that the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (“MPSA”) of MMDC with the government is expired. Similar to the Rappler Article, the words are calculated to induce upon the readers to suppose and understand that MMDC was supposedly guilty of damaging the environment. 

The almost simultaneous publication of the Rappler and Sun Star Articles appears to be suspicious considering the timing of their release, which was “coincidentally” during the International People’s Conference on Mining in manila, which was scheduled on 30 July 2015 to 01 August 2015. We understand that a hard copy of the Sun Start Article was published on the front page of the 03 August 2015 issue of Sun Star Davao, and on the same day, copies thereof were distributed during the briefing of the International Solidarity Mission to Mindanao, which was one of the activities slated for the International People’s Conference on Mining. As we understand, Ms Emma Hotchkiss, a person repeatedly mentioned in the Rappler and Sun Star Articles, is actively involved in both activities.

Moreover, a comparison of the Rappler and Sun Star Articles would reveal that both practically pertain to the very same statements made by the same people such as: (a) Eustaquio “Jojo” Juralbar Jr., (b) Anna Mae Licu/Lico; and (c) Carlos Consigna. Again, the celebrated personality in the Rappler and Sun Star Articles is Ms. Hotchkiss, who is described in the Rappler Article as “one of the Cantilan residents who filed the complaint against MMDC” and in the Sun Star Article as “president of Baywatch, Inc., the organization rallying the people of Cantilan against mining”.

Interestingly, on 03 August 2015, Ms. Estremera posted a hard copy of the 03 August 2015 issue of Sun Star Davao on Facebook with her own caption and exclaiming “front page!!!” Ms. Hotchkiss was tagged to this post. A screenshot of the Facebook Post of Ms. Estremera is shown below.

Not only do the circumstances of both articles appear to be suspect, they also contain false information.

First, a photograph and YouTube video embedded in the Rappler Article make it appear that the mining sites shown therein is the mining site of MMDC even though such photograph and video pertain to the mining site of a different mining company, not that of MMDC. In fact, the mining company subject of the photograph and video in the Rappler Article has a road distance of 50 kilometers (“km.”) and an aerial distance of 30 km. north of the mining site of MMDC. A side-by-side comparison of the photograph in the Rappler Article taken by Ms. Ranada and the photograph of the mining site of the different mining company was taken on 02 August 2015 would show that they are one and the same:

The houses on both photos are actually bunkhouses of contractors and motorpool areas of the said mining company.

Similarly, the YouTube video embedded in the Rappler Article also pertains to the mining site of a different mining company, not that of MMDC. A comparison of the screenshot of the video in the Rappler Article and a photograph of the mining site of said mining company taken on 02 August 2014 from a different angle would show that what is actually being shown in the YouTube video embedded in the Rappler Article is actually the mining site of another mining company and not the MMDC mining site. 

It should be emphasized that, aside from the glaring distance between MMDCs mining site and the mining site subject of the video and photo embedded in the Rappler Article, MMDC’s mining site is glaringly different from the mining site in the photo and video in the Rappler Article. These clear differences can be seen in the photos below showing the mining site of MMDC. 

Second, both the Rappler and Sun Star Articles appear to single out MMDC as the sole source of the alleged environmental degradation in Surigao Del Sur. However, the Sun Star Article itself recognized that there are 43 existing MPSAs in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte when it states “A look at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau website shows that there are 43 existing mining production sharing agreements in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, out of the total of 338 MPSAs all over the Philippines. The agreements cover 3.91-million hectares, most of them for chromite, gold, copper, silica, and nickel.”

Despite the presence of several other mining sites in the area, both the Rappler and Sun Star Articles appear to single out MMDC as the sole source of the alleged environmental degradation in Surigao Del Sur, when the photograph and Youtube video attached to the Rappler Article do not even pertain to the mining operations of MMDC, but instead pertain to a different mining company, which is not even situated in Surigao del Sur. 

Third, while the Rappler and Sun Star Articles appear to impute MMDC as the alleged culprit of environmental damage, MMDC has, in fact, been complying with the environmental requirements in its mining operations. MMDC has secured all the necessary requirements for its mining operations in Carrascal and Canital. Aside from the MPSA, MMDC has been able to secure an Environmental Compliance Certification (“ECC”). In a Report on the Revalidation of Compliance of MMDC dated July 2014 (“Revalidation Report”), Team Leader Engr. Danny P. Berches of the MGB Central Office found that the environmental mitigating measures or siltation control structures of MMDC were all completed. MMDC even has a Social Development and Management Program (“SDMP”) from 2009-2010, which even promoted the general welfare of the inhabitants living in General Island. In addition, MMDC even has a Mine Environmental Protection and Enhancement Office which maintains environmental monitoring through Self Monitoring Report (“SMR”) every quarter and Compliance Monitoring Validation Report during the multipartite monitoring.

Furthermore, the statements made in the Rappler and Sun Star Articles by Ms. Ranada and Ms. Estremera involving the siltation in Ayoke and General Island are belied by their actual conditions. The following photographs taken on 02 and 03 August 2015 of General island and Ayoke Island clearly show that no siltation has been taking place in the area.

If at all, any possible siltation or erosion may be attributed to the reddish lateritic topsoil within the Ayoke Islet vicinity as shown in the photographs below.

Thus, contrary to the portrayal in the Rappler and Sun Star Articles, MMDC has been conscientous in complying with the environmental standards in the area.

Fifth, it is untrue that MMDC allegedly cut trees in an established watershed since any tree which MMDC may have cut were inside the area covered by its MPSA, which is not a watershed forest reserve. The area of MPSA of MMDC is not a watershed forest reserve since the very Proclamation No. 1747 itself provides that prior contracts for extraction or utilization of natural resources, such as MMDC’s MPSA, shall be respected until termination. In any event, MMDC cut trees only in the areas where it has a tree-cutting permit and has not violated the limits allowed within the said permit. Furthermore, the areas where tree cutting was performed are only very limited areas of the MPSA. Out of the 4,799 hectares covered by the MPSA, tree cutting was performed only in 34 hectares in Cabangahan and 57 hectares in Pili.

Sixth, there is likewise no truth to the imputation that MMDC is supposedly operating under an invalid MPSA. There has been no order issued by any competent tribunal invalidating the same.

Given the foregoing circumstances, MMDC therefore sees the publication of the Rappler and Sun Star Articles as not proper. MMDC likewise sees no good intention and justifiable motive in the imputations made against it in the Rappler and Sun Star Articles.

All the premises and discussions above considered, MMDC therefore demands that Rappler remove the Rappler Article from its website and issue an apology and/or retraction of the foregoing articles. In the alternative, MMDC requests that this letter be published in the Rappler website in equal prominence with the Rappler Article. This is without prejudice to MMDC exhausting all available remedies, whether the same be civil, administrative and/or criminal, against the responsible persons and/or entities.

We trust that this letter has been received with your most preferential and immediate attention.

With our best regards.

Very truly yours,

Villaraza & Angangco

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Rappler's response

MMDC took issue with how the Rappler article shared the same quotes and interviewees with a similar article published in SunStar Davao.

This is because the two reporters, Ranada and Stella Estremera of Sun Star Davao, participated in the same media exposure trip hosted by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment as part of their prize for winning a journalism contest. This fact is indicated in the bottom of Ranada’s article. 

Ranada was not aware of the International People’s Conference on Mining or its side events when she wrote the article.

MMDC also believes the photos and YouTube video in the Rappler article make it appear as if the mining sites featured are MMDC mining sites. But the photos and video are not labelled as belonging to MMDC.

MMDC is only named in the article because of previous environmental violations of the company and statements from farmers and fishers who link siltation to MMDC mines specifically.

While MMDC is not the only mining company in Surigao del Sur, it was recently suspended by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for illegally operating in Carrascal and for violating environmental standards.

Though the suspension order was lifted, a fact which is stated in Rappler’s article, MMDC still deserves scrutiny from citizens and journalists as a matter of public interest.

MMDC also accused Rappler of lying about the siltation happening in Ayoke and General Islands. Rappler’s article never said that the reporter saw siltation happening in those islands at the time of her visit.

It is clearly stated in the article that the discoloration of the water occurs in December or the start of the rainy season. This was taken from statements of two fisherfolk groups interviewed separately. 

Also, Rappler included photos of a river where the remnants of siltation were observed by Ranada. 

MMDC also denied cutting trees in a watershed, as written in the Rappler article. It argued that the trees they did cut were covered by MMDC’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA).

But the MPSA coverage does not mean the area was not a watershed. MMDC itself admitted that it cut trees in a 34-hectare area and a 57-hectare area, areas vast enough to serve as watersheds.

As to the “imputation that MMDC is supposedly operating under an invalid MPSA,” the Rappler article does not make such a claim. – Rappler.com