TVRID ‘hurt” by mining exploration halt order

Mount Manaphag looms over Pan de Azucar Island. (Photo courtesy of Maestro Gala PH)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

“It hurts our reputation as a company.”

This was the grievance echoed by Edsel Abrasaldo, vice president of The TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD), over the cease and desist order (CDO) slapped by the Iloilo provincial government against their mining exploration on Pan de Azucar Island in Concepcion town.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan conducted a committee hearing on Wednesday, April 3, which saw the participation of the Provincial Government Environment and Natural Resources Office (PGENRO) and the Environmental Management Bureau Region 6 (EMB-6).

TVIRD is currently engaged in a “pyrite joint venture project” on the island, operating under the Mineral Processing and Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with Mindoro Resource Ltd. and Minimax Mineral Exploration Corporation.

Abrasaldo said they are willing to halt their exploration over the island if proven that they have violated any Philippine laws on environmental conservation and mining.

“We are willing [to stop]. The sad thing about this is we have not violated anything but we were stopped. It hurts our reputation as a company. Our company has a good reputation,” he stressed.

Abrasaldo cited that since 2010, TVRID has received 21 different awards for the environmental performance and practices in their mining ventures in the country.

One of the awards TVRID received is the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Awards, a recognition bestowed to mining companies that have “shown exemplary performance in safety and health management, environmental protection and enhancement, and social and community development.”

“We do not come here to destroy the environment. We are backed by our reputation of taking care of the environment. The mining industry is the number one reforester in the Philippines,” he added.

Abrasaldo pointed out they were caught off guard by the CDO issued since they were not furnished with the investigation report conducted by the PGENRO.

“‘Wag naman po yung ayaw namin sa inyo. ‘Bakit po?’ Basta ayaw namin sa inyo. Parang ganun po ang nangyari. Hindi po science-based,” he added.

PGENRO chief Atty. Cesar Emmanuel Buyco previously confirmed that the TVRID was not given a copy of the results of the investigation so as to not preempt the mining company.

The PGENRO conducted an independent investigation on January 10, 2024, which revealed the presence of arsenic in the exploration activities of the mining form in Barangay Taloto-an.

“These arsenic exposures with groundwater present a relevant hazard for the residents of Barangay Taloto-an, and exposure to arsenic dust raises significant concerns for the townsfolk,” read part of the CDO.

In a statement obtained by Daily Guardian, TVRID however denied the usage of arsenic in their exploration and argued that “the presence of arsenic is a pre-existing condition on the island, regardless of any exploration and mining activities, as arsenic naturally occurs within the radius of massive pyrite deposits.”

PGENRO concurred with the argument but noted the high possibility of arsenic contaminating the groundwater of the island if the mineral exploration continues.

Abrasaldo emphasized that they have been diligently submitting environmental and social reports as required by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He also stressed the importance of legitimate concerns backed by solid evidence rather than mere speculation.

“Hindi kami papayagan na magmina diyan kung sisirain namin yung fisheries, hindi po papayag ang national government. So allow us to explore, study all environmental, social safety aspects and then we present our findings with the government and the community,” he said.

“Anybody can complain but it should be based on proper reasoning and not just whimsical,” he added.

Since the issuance of the CDO, TVIRD has withdrawn its equipment from the island while awaiting the results of water samples collected by EMB-6 on March 25 to verify the presence of arsenic.

TVIRD applied for an MPSA for Pan de Azucar Island, which received approval in 1997.

During the hearing, the mining company confirmed that the island harbors gold and copper alongside its iron deposits.