open-pitFrom Silsilah Dialogue  ZamboangaCity, in occasion of March 22nd World Water Day.

Water for drinking – that is at the top of the list. Also in the list would be water for economic activities like farming and manufacturing and these economic activities are essential to sustaining ways of life. There is also the need for water for domestic use like cooking, cleaning, bathing. The role of water in human life cannot be overemphasized. The UN has issued a report calling the issue of an impending water shortage as a result of climate change as “deeply worrying”. The issue of an impending water shortage is not something esoteric, or something that concerns only communities in distant countries. It is an issue that is right here in our midst. In November 2006 the Government of the City of Zamboanga and the DENR signed an agreement to co-manage the Ayala and the Manicahan watershed areas with assistance from the ECOGOV Project of the USAID. The signing of this agreement was witnessed by Kristy Kinney, the US Ambassador to the Philippines. However some months after, Rigid Aggregates Mining Corporation (RAMC)( aggregate= crushing, screening and loading the materials) applied for a permit to explore the presence of commercially viable quantities of ores within the Ayala watershed area. The Ayala Watershed supplies water to springs and rivers in Ayala, Tulungatung, Cawit and Sinunuc. Three barangay councils and the City Council passed resolutions endorsing the approval of this application. These actions triggered the advocacy taken on by Silsilah to stop the permit to explore applied for by RAMC. On January 14, 2008 Silsilah, on behalf of 692 signatories opposed to the RAMC application, filed with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau its opposition to the grant of a permit to RAMC already favorably endorsed by the City Council of Zamboanga City.

 The opposition of Silsilah is premised on the following principles a. The crucial importance of protecting and preserving watersheds for the supply of fresh water requirements of a community. Several barangays in the West Coast of the city will depend on fresh water from this watershed. b. The 1469 hectares in this area have already been identified as watershed area. Why should a mining company be given a permit to explore within this area when it should not carry out mining activities within the area even if the presence of commercially viable ore quantities is established? c. The communities in this area have just gotten over the ill effects of a mining operation which took place there more than 10 years ago. The mining operation polluted the river and the coastline, negatively affecting agricultural and fishing activities of the residents. d. Consultations with the various stakeholders in the area were not sincerely and genuinely undertaken and the report of the favorable endorsement at the barangay level of the RAMC application was, at best, a fairy tale. The fresh water supply from the Ayala Watershed will be critically threatened by mining activities within the watershed area.  The economic gains from mining may bring a good, but only a short lived one. On the other hand the need for water to sustain life is forever. Silsilah’s advocacy in this issue continues. More than a year after Silsilah filed its opposition to the RAMC application, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau called a preliminary conference with the oppositors in Ipil, Sibugay Province on March 6, 2009.  Silsilah was assisted pro bono by a lawyer who comes from a community under the watershed area. April 30, 2009 has been identified as the deadline for the filing of a formal petition against the RAMC application. In dialogue with people of goodwill, and in dialogue with creation, Silsilah calls on those who believe in this advocacy to rally behind Silsilah  and support the protection and preservation of the Ayala Watershed.

——————————————  Add Notes:    We remember here the processing and mining operations of TVI Resource Development Inc. (TVI) at Canatuan in Zamboanga del Norte and the troubles that began there in the mid-1990s.  Then after the disastrous Marcopper incident in 1996, DENR together with the industry and NGOs reviewed the implementing rules and regulations of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and DENR Administrative Order No. 96-40, which requires companies to undertake an Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP) after they are granted an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).  To improve its environmental performance, the mining industry came up in 1998 with its industry code of conduct for environmental management. In 1999, the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference commissioned the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) to review the environmental performance. The output was a book  (“Mining Revisited: Can an Understanding of Perspectives Help?”) by the Environmental Science for Social Change. In the briefing notes of the book the bishops said that mining has been the focus of much suspicion “due to its poor track record, unfavorable environmental image, and an ill-informed public”.

See also The Mining Act of 1995  / Republic Act No. 9275 on water quality  / CBCP on mining in 2006