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Photograph illegal mining operations and you will be shot–promise!

MIDSALIP (Mabuhay) : A blurred photograph shows a two-to-three-ton government Isuzu truck (SJZ645) being used along with other government equipment to build a road leading seemingly to nowhere.

However, there is a mining operation at the end of the track. The gravel packed road runs towards Bibilop from Midsalip in Zamboanga del Sur.

“There are only two houses at the end of the road, “Father Sean Martin told Mabuhay. “The photograph is taken through the windscreen of the pickup truck, as the threat from the mining companies is quite clear, ‘Take a photo and you will be shot’.”

The Columban priest added that there is plenty of history around Mindanao for people to know that this is not an idle threat either. 

Apart from the presence of the ever vigilant military, which is on hand for the express purpose of supporting the mining companies that pay millions of pesos for its services, there are plenty of goons with guns for hire as well.

“They also know there is impunity for murdering people who stand up against the mining,” the long time Irish missionary said, “as government officials are on the pay roll and the law will not move against them.”

He pointed out that another new road branches off in the direction of the 168 Ferrum Mining Company base, towards Cumarum. “It is in excellent condition,” Father Martin said, “while roads that thousands of people use daily have been neglected for nearly 10 years.”

He points out that in addition, the new road is inside the markers of forest reserves which are there to protect farming and food production.

The second growth forest protects the country from landslides during the wet season and maintains water and water supplies during the dry. 

“At present, there is water for irrigation in the dry season, but with the clearing of land for mining, this will not be the case into the future,” Father Martin lamented.

He adds that a new dam, funded by the Department of Irrigation, is mooted. “It will cover land that has supplied food for many years. It is an extremely rich food-producing area that has taken over 50 years to build up,” he explained.

He added that the mining companies are also pulling the wool over the local people’s eyes.

“The people have been gathering iron ore stones and bringing them to Bibilop in a small four-wheel drive vehicle. They innocently think that gathering up iron ore stones off their land is what mining is all about and,” Father Martin adds, “they are being well paid for their effort.”

However, he notes that the tragedy is that they will now readily agree to the mining, because they do not know what it is, how it is done or how it will affect their land.

He added that about four kilometres from where drilling caused landslides in November and December last year, another small track is being bulldozed, but it does not look like a permanent road.

“It seems that real mining has already started in this area where it has been banned by government and by law,” Father Martin says.

However, he says that the biggest worry is that it is occurring just two months before the elections on May 13 and the governor of Zamboanga del Sur, Antonio Cireles, has signed small scale mining permits, despite the fact that he is facing charges of plunder.

Meanwhile, the priest says that 168 Ferrum is certainly involved in small scale mining or exploration, despite having a case to answer in the Supreme Court of The Philippines.

However, he adds that the mining companies are adept at changing their names to get around any legal action that local people take against them.

In addition, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (permission to mine), despite the fact that the Supreme Court has asked the department to explain why it should not be punished for contempt of court.

The Supreme Court ruled almost two years ago that the DENR is in violation of the law and asked the head of the department to explain why he should not be charged with contempt.

However, the Zamboanga governor is quite confident of winning in the upcoming election and equally confident that he will get off the charges of plunder that have been brought against him.

Meanwhile, Father Martin says, “The poor people are at the mercy of mining companies that bribe local officials who happily ignore court decisions in far away Manila.”

Father Martin added that the Supreme Court also issued a Writ of Kalikasan in August 2011 to protect the area around Midsalip from mining, but says, “The writ is of little use when local officials protect mining interests. Plunder has now expanded to plunder of the environment.”

However, he believes that the mining companies are also playing a dangerous game. Although they are benefitting from a corrupt government at present, corruption cannot be trusted and the hand that feeds them today may well come back to bite them tomorrow, with hefty taxes and mining fees.

“Financial gain is the only focus here in Mindanao. The development of the nation and of a strong economy is not even an issue,” he lamented.

Well may the voice of the bishops cry in the wilderness, “What is happening to our beautiful land?”