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Chaos, hunger to mar Manicani Island

Residents of Manicani Island, in Guiuan, Eastern Samar have expressed fear that the island is on the verge of becoming chaotic as more people are in danger of losing jobs that may result in widespread hunger and conflicts.

This, according to some residents, is inevitable if the removal of stockpiles of ore would be permanently stopped by the government.

According to Delfina Caliwan Bunol from Brgy. Hamorawon, if the loading of stockpiles would not be permanently halted, more Manicani residents would be jobless.

“Natatakot kami na mawalan ng trabaho ang maraming residente at walang kakainin ang mga tao,” Bunol told NAC BULLETIN in an interview.

She said that this could result to chaos as the stoppage could spur violent conflicts between pro and anti-mining groups.

“Magkakaroon na ng chaos at confusion at magkakaroon na ng criminalities dahil mag-aaway ang mga pro at mga anti-mining groups sa isla,” she added.

Based on the data from Hinatuan Mining Corporation (HMC), which is responsible in removing the ore stockpiles from the island, around 500 residents would lose their jobs due to the suspension order.

Bunol said Manicani residents have no other source of income or employment as there are no factories and manufacturing companies operating in the island.

“Walang magiging trabaho ang mga mawawalan ng trabaho dahil wala naman ditong mga factory, wala namang ibang industry na magtatayo sa lugar na ito,” she added.

Nerissa Ida from Brgy. Banaag said the stoppage of ore transport could also imperil their children’s future as they might be forced to stop school in case her husband, who has been working in HMC, would be laid off.

“Dito lang kami umaasa sa HMC. Siyam ang pinapaaral naming kung saan dalawang nasa College na at ang isa ay iskolar pa ng HMC,” said Ida.

She added: “Paano na lang kung mawawalan ng trabaho ang aking mister, 54 anyos na siya, tiyak na mahihirapan na siyang maghanap ng ibang trabaho, baka tumigil na rin sa pag-aaral ang aming mga anak,” she said.

Ida said her husband was a long time fisherman before he decided to work in HMC.

But because of the unstable and minimal income in fishing, Ida said her husband decided to quit and applied in HMC.

“Malaki at sigurado ang kita sa HMC, sigurado ang pangtustos sa araw araw kaysa sa pangingisda walang siguradong income, at walang siguradong pangtustos sa pang araw araw. Kaya kung pangingisda ang aasahan, wala talaga,” she stressed.

Farming, she added, is not also a good source of income for the family as Manicani Island is not suitable for agriculture.

“Hindi pwede ang palayan dito. Dahil simula ng tumira ako rito noong 1986, wala akong makitang palayan. Hindi ito magandang lugar para sa sakahan,” she said.

Manicani not good for agriculture

For his part, Zaldy Ronda, who has been working as an auxiliary at HMC for a year said, he used to be a fisherman.

“Dati akong mangingisda. Iniwan ko yung pangingisda dahil pumasok na ako sa HMC dahil mas maganda po ang kita dito. Ang kita sa pangingisda ay swertihan lang talaga minsan meron, minsan wala,” he said.

Ronda added: “Kadalasan lugi talaga. Halimbawa kapag nagdadagat ako makahuli swerte, pero kapag hindi talo. Mga apat na litro ang nagagamit sa gasolina. Dito sa amin P50 ang kada litro, kaya sa apat na litro may P200 na akong konsumo. Ngayon, uuwi ako ng walang huli. Talo talaga.”

He attributed the scarcity of fish to illegal fishing, which has been rampant in Manicani.

“Madalang na dito ang isda, hindi na gaano marami dahil sa illegal fishing. Illegal fishing talaga ang nakakasira dito sa isla,” he added.

Ronda has been enjoying the benefits of being an employee of HMC.

“Bilang isang empleyado, kapag nagloloading, meron kaming isang sakong bigas maliban pa sa sahod ko. Tapos may mga benefits naman po kami katulad ng SSS at Philhealth,” he said.

In case the removal of ore stockpiles would be permanently stopped, Ronda said he and his family will lose everything.

“Wala kaming hanapbuhay. Ibig sabihin nun, kapag nawala ang loading, tigil na ang supply ng bigas at wala kaming kita. Parang titigil na rin ang paghinga namin. Mawawalan kami ng hanapbuhay,” he said.

Contrary to the claims of anti-mining groups that Manicani Island is an agricultural land, Ronda said farming is not a good source of livelihood for them.

“Kung magsasaka ka, wala ka namang masasaka sa bundok dahil hindi naman gaanong tumutubo ang mga pananim. Walang palay o kamoteng kahoy wala naman yan. Dito po sa buong isla, walang magandang lugar para sa agrikultura. Parang patay ang lupa dito. Hindi tumutubo ang mga pananim dito,” he said.

He likewise challenged the anti-mining groups to try farming to prove that Manicani is indeed best for agriculture.

“Kung ang anti-mining ay naniniwalang maganda sa knila ang agrikultura, bakit hindi nila subukan? Bakit wala silang mga tanim sa bundok? Yun ang tanong ko rin sa kanila. Kaya hindi ako naniniwala dyan na maganda ang agrikultura dito sa isla,” he said.

Imelda Raganas, a community leader, said the people of Manicani “don’t have another source for livelihood” so the transport of ore stockpiles should continue.

Raganas said the removal of stockpiles of ore—remained piled on the island--was the source of income for the residents.

She also doubted Lopez’s promise that displaced workers of suspended mining firms that fail to meet environmental and safety standards would be given employment and alternative livelihood.

“We don’t agree with that because the livelihood they are saying has no assurance. They suggest that we get involved in fishing but that is not sustainable since there are residents from other provinces who are also entering our area,” Raganas said.

Residents’ plea

Because of this, Manicani residents asked the government to lift the suspension of ore transport permit imposed on HMC.

“We are appealing to the government to allow the transport of ore because a lot of people were affected by the suspension,” Raganas said.

Manicani, a 1,000 hectare island, has a nickel deposit covered by MPSA 012-92-VIII awarded to HMC.

But the mining operations on the island have been suspended since the early 2000s and HMC has been on a maintenance mode for the last 12 or so years.

As early as 2002, a special Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) task force put together by then Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez recommended the disposal of nickel ore stockpiles on the island, to mitigate environmental risk.

On July 1, 2014, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Jasareno issued a letter to NAC Chairman Manuel B. Zamora Jr, informing the latter that HMC was being “authorized to dispose of the nickel ore stockpiles situated in the contract area.”

This move came on the heels of a letter from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, endorsing the request to allow the disposal of the stockpiles as a means to jumpstart the reconstruction efforts in Yolanda affected areas.

It was noted that Manicani was fortunate enough not to have been hit by a storm surge similar to what wrought widespread destruction to Tacloban City, thus sparing the stockpiles.

But weeks after she took office, DENR Secretary Regina Lopez suspended the transport saying that the company has been taking too much soil.

“In the assessment, they are taking too much soil. They are taking the soil out and it goes to China,” she said.

She said the company should use the remaining stockpile to rehabilitate the mined-out areas adding that “They have to use it for restoration. Put it back in the hole.”

DENR’s accusation baseless, unfair

But Hinatuan Mine project manager Manolito Javar denied the secretary’s accusations saying that they were all baseless.

He explained that of the 1.4 million metric tons (MT) of ore stockpile, the company was only able to ship more than 265,000 MT of ore to China.

Manicani still has a mine life of 13 years and only 15 hectares of the total 1,165-hectare area have been mined. Manicani stopped mining operations after it was suspended in 1994.

In the case of using the stockpiles for restoration, HMC community relations (ComRel) manager Francis Malones, said that was “impossible.”

“Who will return it? Where will they return it? Those stockpiles are meant to be disposed. We can’t put it back. In the first place, it was them who recommended us to do such activity,” Malones said.

At the same time Malones said the evaluation is “unfair” as they were not given any opportunity to talk to the evaluators.

"Majority of the residents do not know what is happening. The audit team only checked our ECC (environment compliance certificate) and safety plan. The suspension was only coursed through our head office,” said Malones.

"We were supposed to know the results right after the audit. But we were only informed days after that,” he added.

Mine audit pressed

Nickel Asia vice president for corporate communications Jose Bayani Baylon said the company was currently waiting for the mine audit.

“We are awaiting for the DENR to schedule the audit of the HMC stockpile removal operations on Manicani ASAP, so that the loading can resume leading to the removal of an environmental hazard and the generation of much needed income for the residents,” Baylon said.

Estrella Loyola, 57, working as a kitchen staff at HMC, also called on the DENR to expedite the auditing so that they could continue working in the company.

“Sana iyong auditing ay madaliin na nila at ng makapagtrabaho na kami dito. Kasi kung hindi pa ma-audit ay hindi pa kami makakapagtrabaho dito,” she said.

Because of this, Loyola appealed to DENR to start the audit immediately.

“Kaya nakikiusap kami sana kay Secretary Gina Lopez na sana ay ituloy nya na at iaudit nya kami dito. Kasi kami nakahanda naman kami sa lahat ng audit,” she said.

She also called on President Rodrigo Duterte not to allow the massive lay-offs of HMC employees because of the suspension of ore stockpile removal.

“Pinapakiusap namin kay President Duterte na sana tulungan niya kami na sana ay hindi matigil dito ang trabaho at ang mga taga dito ay hindi na pumunta sa ibang lugar lalo na sa Maynila para lamang maghanap ng trabaho,” she said.

Responsible mining

Even if HMC does not operate in Manicani, the company has been providing assistance to the residents of the island.

In fact, immediately after super typhoon Yolanda hit Eastern Samar, HMC and its parent company-- NAC adopted Manicani island to assist in its post-Yolanda recovery efforts.

The company pledged to rebuild every single one of the more 500 homes damaged by the typhoon irrespective of the mining sentiment of the owner.

Violeta Caliwan Siris of Barangay Hamorawon said HMC has given given them financial assistance after the typhoon Yolanda.

“Sila ang nagbigay sa amin ng pabahay after Yolanda. Saka yung relief goods sa HMC iyon nanggaling. Marami ang nabigay ng HMC. Iyong bahay naming, kung walang HMC baka hanggang ngayon wala pa kaming bahay,” she said.

Tito Abucejo, the barangay captain of Buenavista (the island’s biggest barangay) said while so many people pledged to help after Yolanda, it was only HMC that delivered on each promise, and more.

The company has been helping the four barangays in Manicani island – Buenavista, Banaag, San Jose and Hamorawon in the areas of education, health, infrastructure, livelihood and even in socio-cultural.

To date, HMC has already poured in over P100 million for these projects on the island.

For education, HMC has a scholarship program and has been providing computers to various schools in the island as well as uniforms and school supplies to students. It also helped in setting up an alternative learning center.

As part of its community support program, HMC provides livelihood with the establishment of a bakeshop and a sari-sari store.

It has also been conducting free medical checkups and medicines as well as initiating health and sanitation projects in the island.

The company also initiated the installation of a water supply system and constructed covered courts in the four barangays.

The company has also been conducting sports and recreatrion programs such as the Basketball clinic and basketball competitions.

It launched a two age bracket basketball tournament among the four barangays on the island with covered courts as prize.

With regard to its environmental accomplishment, HMC has been very active in its reforestation and rehabilitation program.

In fact, it has already planted 14,326 of assorted seedlings covering a land area of 13.5 hectares. The company is also conducting coastal clean-up regularly.

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