By Manilyn Ugalde
VIRAC, Catanduanes (12-April-2013/PNA) – An island province exposed to open seas without protection, Catanduanes is feared to lose its title as the only province in Bicol with remaining virgin forests and as abaca capital once coal mining operation in its bosom is allowed to start.
At this early, the Diocese of Catanduanes led by Bishop Manolo de los Santos has started getting frantic as the government was reported to have favored granting a permit to the multi-national Altura Mining to explore a 7,000-hectare coal area that covers the towns of Bagamanoc, Panganiban, Viga and Caramoran.
Catanduanes has 11 towns.
According to De los Santos, Catanduanes has reasons to fear should the Australian-Indonesian coal mining firm start exploring mineral resources in the province, saying it could be severely disastrous.
He said he can never agree with the few mining backers and supporters who vouch for “responsible mining.”
“We simply cannot allow mining to destroy the province,” the bishop stressed.
According to De los Santos, the report he received was that Altura Mining will be allowed to extract 1.2 million tons of coal in a period of five years, with the province reportedly getting a projected annual share in the amount of P76 million.
The newly established Catanduanes Sustainable Development Movement (CSDM) said the mining operation would displace at least 10,000 farmers and fisherfolk who are dependent on the production of abaca fiber, tiger grass and coconut.
The CSDM said crab and milkfish growing as well as hydropower operations could also be affected.
CSDM president Eddie Ugalde said, “We can now imagine the many trees and coconut that will be cut down in a 7,000-hectare exploration sites.“
He said Catanduanes’ remaining virgin forests that have already been depleted due to illegal logging and cutting will be gone and the gloomy experience it has had from severe flooding due to typhoons will never end, making the province finally empty.
From Vancouver, Canada, overseas workers Evelyn Manlangit and Teddy Traqueña called up to express strong protests over reports reaching them that coal mining operation is set to start in Catanduanes.
“It’s disastrous for a small and depressed Catanduanes province that everyone in the province should resist and fight,” said the two OFWs.
Altura Mining is the 33rd mining firm that has shown interest to explore Catanduanes after government and mining experts reportedly found its coal as the best, desirable and hardest as attested to by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2006, with a heating value twice as those produced in other coal-producing provinces.
At least two attempts to explore mineral resources such as gold and coal in the province in 2009 and 2011 had failed to push through following strong protests mounted by residents in areas designated as exploration sites.(PNA)