By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY (20-Mar-2013) – The new government-approved coal mining plan for Catanduanes is facing stern opposition from various local sectors that consider the venture a big setback to the Bicol island province’s remaining forests and agriculture-based economy.
“Allowing coal mining in Catanduanes would be a double whammy for the province,” claimed a report recently tendered to the provincial government by an environmental expert who studied the impact of coal mining in the province.
The report boosted up the “no mining” stance mounted by the Katandungan Kontra Mina (KKM), a local Catholic church-backed pro-environment group that in 2009 was able to ward off an attempt by a coal mining firm to operate in the province.
In March last year, the Department of Energy awarded mining rights to Altura Mining Philippines Inc. (AMPI), a local subsidiary of Australian-owned Altura Mining Limited (ASX: AJM), following its successful bid for the Coal Operating Contract under the Philippine Energy Contracting Round 4 (PECR4).
The mining site covers 7,000 hectares identified as “Area 3 Catanduanes,” the same site covered by a contract earlier awarded by the DOE under the PECR of 2009 to Monte Oro Resources and Energy Inc., which backed out amid strong opposition mounted by local environmentalists led by KKM.
AMPI recently announced that it will soon start exploration activities in the area in line with the approved work program and stakeholder consultation process.
Following this announcement, Catanduanes Bishop Manolo de los Santos over the weekend called on Catanduanons to reunite once more, this time against the AMPI operations, said a report of the Catanduanes Tribune, a local weekly.
In his report submitted to Gov. Joseph Cua, engineer Manuel Mapa, a former chief of the Bureau of Design of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) who conducted studies on the impacts of coal mining in the province, said the 60,000 hectares of forests on the island–the largest green patch in Bicol–could disappear once the AMPI operation is allowed.
In a statement here Tuesday, Cua said Mapa’s report revealed that the five-year project timeline on the 7,000 hectares extracting 1.2 million tons of coal would provide a share to the province of around P76 million, with at least 500 local mining laborers to be hired.
The same report said, on the other hand, that the about 1,400-hectare portion of the mining site devoted to abaca that could churn out at least P26 million per year worth of abaca products, benefitting some 9,000 farmers, would be lost to the mining venture, according to Cua.
This means that in five years, an amount of P132 million in abaca production would be lost by the province in exchange for the P76-million share from the mining operations.
The Catanduanes Tribune said the island has a vast forest reserve estimated at 60,000 hectares of timberland and second-growth that could be obliterated by massive cutting of trees and destruction of the water sources due to the mining operations.
Mapa’s study, according to Cua, does not see any reason why Catanduanes should seek for miners for its rich land to be exploited by destructive mining.(PNA)