‘SAVE OUR ISLAND’: Locals say no to ‘mining exploration’ in Concepcion island

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

The residents of Concepcion town in the northern part of the Iloilo province have opposed the “mineral exploration” of a mining company in some parts of the Pan de Azucar Island.

The Pan de Azucar Island, renowned as one of the tallest mountains in Panay, is composed of the villages of Tambaliza, Macatunao, and Talotoan.

Barangay Captain Leo Ferraris of Talotoan, in a radio interview, expressed his willingness to support exploration activities but vehemently opposed any extraction of materials and minerals from the island.

“Kun drilling lang masugot ako pero kun minahon na indi ako magsugot sina. Depensahan ko ang akun barangay,” he said. (I will agree with drilling but not with mining. I will defend my barangay)

Residents and students from Barangay Tambaliza also expressed their opposition to the proposed mining exploration during a general assembly held on Wednesday.

Students held placards with phrases such as “Don’t destroy our island,” “#SaveOurHome No To Mining,” and “Exploring leads to mining,” among others.

Atty. Cesar Emmanuel Buyco, Chief of the Provincial Government Environment and Natural Resources Office (PGENRO), noted that the response from the island’s residents was a “resounding no.”

“Ka klaro gid sang ila paghambal nga indi gid sila. Even with the exploration,” he said. (They were very clear with their opposition).

Buyco attended the public hearing in Tambaliza.

He mentioned that despite existing mining exploration activities in the area years ago, locals might be apprehensive about a transition to full-scale mining, especially with the recent transshipment of heavy mining equipment to the island.

“With the development subong sang mga equipment nila, kita mismo nagaduda kung drilling gid man ang naubra nila or boring for that matter […] With the reports nga daw kadalagko kuno sang mga equipment, basi iba ni ang ginaubra nila,” he said. (With the kind of equipment they are bringing in, we doubt if they are only into drilling or boring for that matter. With the reports of the very big equipment in the area, they might be doing something else.)

Buyco said that the potential mining operation in the area is “very large” once the profitability for a mining project in the area is established.

According to the Mining Act of 1995, with the grant of an exploration permit (EP) from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), a mining company is allowed to search for mineral resources in methods such as test pitting, trenching, drilling, shaft sinking to determine the feasibility of mining.

The PGENRO chief committed to the locals to bring the MGB to discuss the ongoing mining activities in the island.

“We will try to bring back another team didto, together with MGB kay sila ang nag-issue sang permit para buligan nila kami inspect sang mga activities sang mining company nga nagaubra didto” he said.  (We will try to bring back another team there together with MGB, as they issued the permits, to help us inspect the activities of the mining company.)

The MGB was invited to the public hearing in Tambaliza but the agency was a no-show according to Buyco.

Former Concepcion mayor and now Provincial Administrator Raul Banias urged the local government to halt the mining exploration before it adversely impacts the island’s environment.

“Let us leave this beautiful seascape idyllic, serene and majestic and let us not spoil and disturb this fragile ecosystem and environment,” said Banias in a Facebook post.

Concepcion Mayor Milliard Villanueva previously confirmed to Daily Guardian that TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD) has ongoing mineral exploration activities on the island.

TVIRD is the Philippine affiliate of TVI Pacific Inc. – a Canadian resource company focused on the “production, development, exploration and acquisition of resource projects in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.”

Based on its website, TVIRD has joint venture agreements with Mindoro Resource Ltd. (MRL) and Minimax Mineral Exploration Corporation (Minimax) for its mining projects in the country. Under these agreements, TVIRD will act as the operator.

Reports showed that in 2011, MRL had carried out drilling activities on Pan de Azucar Island, specifically in the village of Talotoan.

The exploration led to the discovery of minerals such as pyritic sulfide copper, gold, silver, and zinc.

An undated document from MGB-Region 6 showed that Minimax is among the five mining companies in the province that has a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA).

It noted that Minimax is still in the exploration stage and not yet in the operation stage.

However, it was not specified in the document the exact area in the province where Minimax is exploring minerals.

An MPSA is one of the three types of Mineral Agreements under the Mining Act. Under it, the government grants to the MPSA holder the exclusive right to conduct mining operations within a contract area.