News Features

Mining the Real Gold in Lobo

By MAHARLIKA M. MANALO

Last Part of 3-Part Series

[THE following article is the Last Part of the Series. The series is the product of a 2-month research and study conducted under the Philippine Press Institute – Philippine-Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (PPI-Ph-EITI) Media Fellowship on Digging Stories that Matter.]

“MINING has brought a lot of bad memories, doon sa mga barangay na sumuporta sa mining, namulot ako ng boto, nahati ang aming bayan, magkakamag-anak nagkakagalit, magkapatid hindi nag-iimikan, magpipinsan hindi nagbabatian, ngayong ok na uli, ayaw na nila pag-usapan, iniiwasan na nila ang topic na yan”, former Lobo councilor Rey Amparo added.

As he is currently working as the Public Relations Officer of JG Summit Petrochemicals, Inc. in Batangas City, Amparo believes that industrialization is the key to development in Lobo but of course without com-promising the environment.

Though tourism industry has begun to boost in Lobo, Amparo is not convinced it would generate more jobs and income to local residents but power plants and industries do.

“Kailangan lang talaga proper education, information campaign has to be consistent, kailangang ihanda ang mga tao, buksan ang isipan nila, slowly mabubuksan naman yan, may cellphone, internet, TV, we have to educate the people right.”

Amparo cited Batangas City as being a coastal town turned heavy industries city which now can provide health cards, scholarships, social services to residents among others.

Community sees Livelihood and Development Potential

Some residents in Lobo have seen livelihood potentials and developments in the mining project.

In Barangay Balibago, the mining company during the time of exploration sup-ported the locals partly on roads concreting, school renovations, construction of community chapel, pipe installations for the water system and other community projects.

“Madami silang naitulong dito sa amin, lalo na’t nabigyan ng trabaho ang mga tao kahit hindi naman nakapag-aral” said Punong Barangay Nestor Camo.

The mining company for instance provided truck equipments, gasoline and man-power in flattening the hilly land area of Balibago-Biga National High School where a new school building is being constructed which Camo estimated the company spent about half a million pesos.

“Dahil napatag yung lupa, napagtayuan namin ng dagdag na school building” Camo said, pointing out that the barangay high school can now cater more than 300 students compared before which only accommodate 30 students.

He said that in the previous years, residents in Balibago hardly afford to send children to school because of poverty and poor accessibility.

The company also donated P200,000 cash for the construction of barangay chapel which was totally damaged by a typhoon few years back.

Barangay Balibago which is about an hour from the town proper is the second to the last barangay along the boundary of Lobo and San Juan town. Camo said the residents used to board on a small boat going to the town proper until the barangay road was constructed recently along the coast line, but still poorly maintained.

The concreting of Lobo-San Juan connecting road passing Balibago with P150M allocated budget is now underway through the initiatives of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the tourism development plan.

“Malaking panghihinayang kung hindi matutuloy ang pagmimina pero kung makakasira din naman sa kalikasan, iba din naman ang loob ko, kung open pit mining ang gagawin nila, babahain kami dito ng putik lalo na kapag tag-ulan” Camo said.

For a 65-year-old Naty Aldea, mining in Lobo would give additional income to the residents and the local government.

She does not believe the town is self-sustainable from agriculture such as farming and fishing as well as the promotion of eco-tourism at this time.

Aldea, a resort owner and a resident of Malabrigo, one of the coastal barangays, supported the responsible mining operations considering the project proposal that was presented by the mining company in one public hearing she attended.
Aldea cited the mining operations in Paracale, Camarines Norte operated by small scale miners, mostly are illegal and unregulated.

Paracale along with Baguio are the major districts in Luzon that produce gold.
“There was an incident in Paracale that three mine workers drowned and died when the site tunnel collapsed causing the sea water flooded the area in 2012. At least, if something happened during the operations in Lobo, there is a company to be blamed and responsible for any destruction”, she said.

Aldea together with the Pro-Mining groups in Lobo composed mostly of residents and barangay officials also staged a rally after the Sangguniang Bayan withdrew its support to the mining project. They also submitted a petition but the Sanggunian has remained its stand not to pursue the project.

“Marami naman sumama sa anti-mining rally ay hindi mga taga Lobo, mga taga ibang lugar”

She believed the negative reports on social and mainstream media about mining had contributed a lot in hampering the project.

Aside from mainstream and local media coverage, a series of reports were aired in Failon Ngayon of ABS-CBN hosted by veteran broadcaster, Ted Failon, hitting the negative impacts of mining in Lobo more so to the VIP.

“Ano ba ang other alternative para kumita ang bayan ng Lobo? Wala na naman gaanong nagtatanim, hindi na rin dumarami ang mga isda hindi katulad noon, yuong tourism naman, may mga resort but I don’t think it’s enough, wala pa tayong napakagagandang resort na pang world-class at the moment.”

She said only 26 resorts are registered in the municipality but in Malabrigo alone, there are more than 20 small resorts owned by local residents which are not at all registered.

Aldea sees development in mining and she believed it is one way to uplift the lives of indigents in Malabrigo who only hopes from the Pantawid Pampamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) funds, a government program that provides conditional cash grants.

Tourism Development as Alternative

The municipality of Lobo is focusing now on the development and improvement of tourism and agriculture sites looking forward to boost eco-tourism industry in town.

Mayor Gaudiosio Manalo is aiming Lobo with this year’s P140M annual budget, to become a first class municipality and targeting one million tourists and more in the next five years while improving tourist sites’ facilities.

Just last year, the tourism office had listed more than 60,000 local and foreign tourists who visited Lobo. Now that Boracay were closed to tourists, Lobo can be an alternative place to go for beach and nature lovers.

Manalo said gold mining has the least of possibility and is not a priority to pursue unless the operator will offer a safe mining method without using chemicals.
Lobo LGU has intensified resources conservation and fishery law enforcement to protect the fish sanctuaries.

As of today, there are more than 4,232 artificial reef blocks installed in Barangays Soloc, Malabrigo, Olo-Olo, Biga, Balibago and Lagadlarin.

The project increases marine productivity and recruits natural corals thus more opportunities for fishermen, same way of enhancing the productive capacity of VIP.

Aside from the beauty and pristine seawaters, the town offers a package tour discovering the virgin forests in Lobo, the Jaybanga Rice Terraces in Barangay Jaybanga, a 21-hectare land which the local government has plan to shift to organic rice production on the coming years, the 34-hectare Lagadlarin and Olo-Olo Mangrove Forests, the historical site of Malabrigo Light House, the Mt. Nalayag point and more.

The LGU in collaboration with DENR, BFAR, DOT, DOST, ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan and other public and private agencies develop and promote community-based marine tourism, farm tourism and mountain tourism.

These activities involved people’s organizations who have responsibility to protect and conserve the natural resources for the environment and livelihood sustain-ability.

Ellaine Diomampo, Bantay Kalikasan site specialist for Batangas and Mindoro said they started assisting the communities in Lobo when the mining issue arose.
The project emphasizes on how the people’s organization will generate income while still caring for the environment.

“Gumagawa kami ng proyekto na mapapagkakitaan ng community, envi-ronmental friendly but socially enterprising, either funded by Bantay Kalikasan or kami yung nagiging way to look for resources” Diomampo said.

The Mabisa Eco-Farm where Magdamit served as caretaker, is funded by Bantay Kalikasan same with Lagadlarin Mangrove Forests where Armamento works.
Admittedly the income is not compelling, but the two still stand against mining considering the next generations.

Magdamit’s husband goes back to farming and nurturing livestock while her two sons were employed outside Lobo.

“Minsan pag malaki ang ani sa tanim, malaki ang kita, pangkain din lang” Mag-damit said.

Because mining was uncertain, Armamento said her neighbors returned into farming and fishing. Some residents have tried their luck outside Lobo.
“Wala naman po nayaman sa pagmimina kundi yung mga kompanya, ang mangyayari kung natuloy ang mina, sa kanila ang ginto, sa amin ang guho,” Armamento said.

Proposed Mining so Far

While still pending at the MGB-IV-A, Lobo MPSAs that will expire in 2027 are under ‘care and maintenance’ which means the mining company is still maintaining the exploration area.

Care and maintenance is a term used in mining industry to describe processes and conditions on a closed mine site where there is potential to recommence operations at a later date. During a care and maintenance phase, production is stopped but the site is managed to ensure it remains in a safe and stable condition.

“For the meantime, they are still required to submit their maintenance care pro-gram, documents among others, yung safety and health program sa exploration area,” said Dondi Sarmiento, head of MGB IV-A, Mine Safety Environment and Social Development Division.

Sarmiento said the annual report submitted by the mining company which is subject for evaluation of the MGB, is a consideration that the application is still active.

“Pumupunta po yung MGB team sa site, just to check kung ano mga activities nila, wala naman sila paggalaw in so far as mining is concerned,” Sarmiento said.

In the Annual Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (AEPEP) for 2018 submitted to MGB by EGPI President Edsel Abrasaldo, it has read that the project is currently under care and maintenance status and there is no exploration or mining operations to monitor.

There has no equipment in the mining area and the company is now maintaining only two (2) employees only. MRL Gold already retrenched and terminated its 40 employees on November, 2016.

EGPI for the meantime still continue to monitor the progress of the planted trees over and beyond the National Greening Program as part of the company’s commitments to the government.

Report said the extremely vigorous campaign spearheaded by ABS-CBN against the Lobo Gold Mining and Processing Project damaged the company severely.
Its principal sponsor, Red Mountain Mining of Perth, Australia decided to back off but there is an investor interested in the project, however, it is on a “wait-and-see” stance, watching closely the national government’s pronouncements on major mining issues such as open-pit mining.

Former DENR Secretary Lopez imposed a ban on open-pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores on April, 2017 through DAO-2017-10 and still in force after President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the proposal of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift the ban in November last year.

Lobo MPSAs which is under DMPF application stage is covered in DAO-2006-01 issued by Lopez in July 2016 to audit all operating mines and a moratorium on the approval of new mining projects.

On February 2017, a notice from the EMB was received by MRL-Egerton rejecting its ECC application.

Lopez also cancelled all MPSAs across the country in February 2017 because they were located in watershed areas.

Even the Lobo LGU for the first time since 2002 refused to grant business permit and the payment of the 2017 occupation fees for the two MPSAs has not been accepted pending the decision of the local chief executive.

Abrasaldo in his report said the company shall resume its community pro-grams in Lobo once the situation improves, which they hope will happen in the immediate future with Secretary Roy Cimatu now at the helm of DENR.
Now that Lobo is declared as an Eco-Tourism town and its 10-year Com-prehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) 2012-2022 was already approved at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on May, 2017, local officials has assured the people of Lobo that it will serve as a moratorium for mining.

Lobo Councilor Bojie Anyayahan, chairman of the Committee on Environment said as one of the anti-mining advocates, caring for the environment is his priority other than any development that could destruct natural resources.

“Kung magkakaroon ng open pit mining saan kukuha ng tubig ang mga mamamayan, during summertime na nawawalan nang tubig sa mga upland barangays, how much more pa kaya kung huhukayin ang sources nila, yung mga bundok dito marami wildlife habitat na maapektuhan.”

The CLUP is a planning document prepared by the LGUs to rationalize the allocation and proper use of land resources. Under the Local Government Code of 1991, all LGUs are mandated to pre-pare, revise and update their comprehensive land use plan which shall be enacted through a zoning ordinance.

The approved general land use plan in Lobo is for the development of forest zone, agricultural, agri-industrial, commercial, institutional, recreational, residential, tourism, open dumpsite and cemetery, excluding mining on its scope.

Before the approval of CLUP at the SP, the Provincial Land Use Committee (PLUC) conducted a committee hearing on September 21, 2015 which was attended by its chairman, Benjamin Bausas, the then Governor Vilma Santos-Recto, the local officials of Lobo municipality, Father Ramos of AMEN, representatives from Archdiocese of Lipa and different provincial agency officials.
The minutes of the committee hearing stated that the absence of mining provisions in the CLUP of Lobo strengthened the local municipality’s stand against mining activity and once it is approved, there is no need to enact another ordinance declaring a total ban in mining.

Then Governor Recto revealed during the meeting that there was an attempt from Egerton to convince her with regard to its mining operation but she refused. She shared same advocacy regarding environmental conservation and protection.
She further commended the municipal government of Lobo for their firm under-taking in cancelling the resolution previously given for the proposed mining operations.

Now that gold mining controversy in Lobo has toned down, Father Dakz believed that while the proposal is still there and not totally scrapped by the proponent, their fight is not yet over.

“Ang analogy ko diyan, ang mining sa Lobo ay parang baga, wala man siyang apoy ngayon pero pag hinipan mo, lalagablab uli, (My analogy is that, the issue of mining in Lobo is just like burning charcoal, even in the absence of fire, once you blow an air to it, it will ignite again).| #BALIKAS_News

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