mining in the Philippines

‘We want her audience’: DENR chief urged to cancel Altai’s mining permit in Sibuyan

Iya Gozum

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‘We want her audience’: DENR chief urged to cancel Altai’s mining permit in Sibuyan

VIGIL. Sibuyanons hold a prayer vigil from May 18 to 19, 2023, in front of the DENR main office.

Iya Gozum/Rappler

'This is our move for us to be heard by our secretary,' says Sibuyanons as they hold a prayer vigil outside the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

MANILA, Philippines – Dozens of Sibuyanons held a prayer vigil outside the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from Thursday, May 18, to Friday, May 19, urging Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to cancel the mining permit of Altai Philippines Mining Corporation.

“We wrote to the secretary to stop the mining in Sibuyan,” Vivien Rios Carmona, spokesperson of environmental group Bantay Sibuyan Kalikasan, told Rappler on Friday. “To review, once and for all, the exploration permit that they granted.”

The vigil was the group’s latest attempt to seek an audience with concerned environment officials.

“This is our move for us to be heard by our secretary because up to now, all our efforts, like letters, were not yet being answered,” said Carmona.

“We’re not given the privilege to seek her personally. We want her audience.”

According to Carmona, around 60 Sibuyanons attended the vigil on Thursday night. Among them was former town mayor Dindo Rios, a staunch anti-mining advocate who filed a complaint against Altai back in 2011 for “severely endangering” the rivers and streams of Sibuyan.

By Friday morning, only around 20 attendees were left in front of the main office.


Carmona said they have been writing to the DENR’s Office of the Secretary since March 2022 regarding Altai’s mining exploration activities in their island. The environment department renewed Altai’s mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) last July 2022.

“We’re really frustrated with what’s going on with our DENR secretary,” Carmona said, adding that their letters on the issue, while received and acknowledged by the department, have yet to be addressed.

Loyzaga is currently in New York as head of the Philippine delegation to the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework.

“This is actually the real fight,” she said, referring to the secretary’s trips abroad.

Before the residents ended their vigil on Friday, Carmona said environment undersecretaries Jonas Leones, Augusto dela Peña, and Carlos Primo David met with the group to “recommit” sending experts to their island and opening communication lines. The officials also promised to study the possibility of canceling the MPSA.

Carmona described the meeting as “positive,” though she expressed frustration over having to spend half of the discussion giving the officials a backgrounder on the issue.

Mukhang (It seems like we’re) back to zero,” she told Rappler.

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TIMELINE: Sibuyan Island’s decades of opposition to mining

TIMELINE: Sibuyan Island’s decades of opposition to mining
Mining in Sibuyan?

For decades, residents and local officials have opposed attempts to mine Sibuyan Island, known for its rich biodiversity and endemism and dubbed the “Galapagos of Asia.”

Environmental groups have launched a series of protests in the island and at the DENR main office since the issue catapulted to national attention when residents formed a human barricade in January to block trucks transporting nickel ore.

Altai’s mining operations have been temporarily halted since last February after the DENR Mimaropa’s inspection found that the company lacked a cutting permit and an environmental compliance certificate for constructing a causeway project.

Residents and advocates lauded the suspension, but they continued to demand a complete halt to the mining operations.

In statements sent to media, Altai has consistently defended the legality of their operations. The company also assured the public that they continuously try to establish a dialogue with the protesters and residents to “hopefully find common ground.”

In April, Altai signed a memorandum of cooperation with leaders of Sibuyan civil society organizations. However, this was disowned by some environmental groups, saying the memorandum was not representative of sectors in the island. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.