By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, 22Dec2013 (PNA) – Catanduanes Gov. Araceli Wong has reiterated her firm position against coal mining being pushed by the Department of Energy (DOE) in the province.
“It should be known to all Catanduanons and anybody else concerned, including the DOE, that my stand against any coal exploration and mining within the province of Catanduanes is firm and unshakable,” Wong said in a statement reaching here over the weekend.
Besides, she said, Provincial Ordinance No. 006-2013 declaring the province of Catanduanes a mining-free zone is in effect and “we do not have any plan of reversing it.”
She also noted that “while the Coal Development Act of 1976 mandates the development, exploitation and utilization of the country’s coal resources, it is also the policy of the State, stipulated in the Local Government Code of 1991, to require all government agencies and offices to conduct regular consultations with concerned LGUs, NGOs, people’s organizations and other sectors of the affected communities to assess their congruence before any program or project can be implemented in their localities.”
In support to the lady governor’s position, Mayors Robert Fernandez of Panganiban, Remegio Villaluna of Bagamanoc and Salvacion Isuela of Caramoran — the three municipalities covering the coal site — have also expressed opposition to the project, citing the risks and adverse effects that the mining operations would bring to their place.
It can be recalled that in 2009, the island province — which sits on the northeastern section of the Bicol Peninsula and said to be rich in high-grade coal — got itself locked in a tough battle defending its mining-free principle.
It won the fight when Monte Oro Resources and Energy Inc., a giant mining firm awarded by the DOE the contract to mine some 7,000 hectares of coal site in the island, backed out amid strong opposition mounted by Catanduanons.
In March last year, the DOE once more awarded the mining rights to another firm — 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 new award covers the same site identified as “Area 3 Catanduanes” and the announcement made later by AMPI that it would start with the mining activities soon once again stirred the province into the reconsolidation of forces among local governments, civil society groups and the local hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church towards fortifying anew their defenses.
Catanduanes Bishop Manolo de los Santos promptly called on Catanduanons to reunite once more, this time against the AMPI operations while former Gov. Joseph Cua revived the provincial government’s position supported by a provincial ordinance disallowing any form of mining operations in the province.
The negative position was based on a report by 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.
The study says the 60,000 hectares of forests on the island, the largest green patch in Bicol, could disappear once the AMPI operation is allowed.
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 projected at 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 and could churn out at least P26 million per year worth of abaca products, benefitting some 9,000 farmers, would be lost to the mining, according to Cua.
This means that in five years, an amount of P132 million in abaca production is lost by the province in exchange for the P76-million share from the mining operations.
Catanduanes is an abaca production leader with its over 20,000 metric tons of fiber yield yearly, representing about 35 percent of the country’s total output. (PNA)