Thousands of local villagers in the Masbate province of the Philippines, are in their second week of protesting the “unwelcome and unsafe” presence of the Filminera Mining Corporation (FMC).
Working in partnership with Australia/Canada-based company, Central Gold Asia (CGA), Filminera’s open pit gold mine in Aroroy was scheduled to be fully operational on March 20th, but a massive show of local opposition halted the company from moving ahead.
On March 14, as many as 4,000 villagers from Aroroy barricaded themselves in front of the mine site.
A battalion of soldiers was flown in to protect the mine site soon after the protest began, reports the CBCP. A second report from the CBCP explains that, as of March 18, there were “about 50 armed men belonging to Alpha Company 22nd CAFGU Battalion who are roaming around the mining site, while three boats of the 9th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army are anchored at the municipality’s shores and most of its men are conducting check points and searches.”
Fortunately the military hasn’t taken any action yet, but they could make a move at any moment.
Meanwhile, the company has declared a “five-day work holiday” at the mine, and given away free banquets, bingo socials “and all sorts of sports” to try and hollow-out the protesters’ legitimate demands.
The villagers are asking the government to revoke Filminera’s mining permit, and to repeal the Mining Act of 1995 “which favors foreign companies” over environmental protection, human rights, and indigenous peoples rights.
A number of primary concerns are fueling the demands, as the diocese of Masbate Social Action Foundation Inc. (DIMASAFI) explains in a recent statement:
Central Gold Asia, at the beginning of its activity has painted a rosy picture before the eight (8) impacted communities with promises of employment and social development. After years of exploration, it began to show its ugly face:
- An open pit mining with wide tracks of land being scraped while mountains and hills are being flattened, leaving the communities agape at the unexpected sight;
- farmers being displaced with meagre monetary compensation and relocated in nearby cattle grazing land with no possibility of farming activities;
- the small scale miners with thousands of dependents being driven out of their place of work resulting in their scampering everywhere to dig for their survival;
- rivers being closed with embankment for the construction of the tailings pond, and some rivers rerouted, with the consequent drying up of rice fields and fish ponds and water source of a nearby community;
- age-old trees being bulldozed with plants and crops to the disappointment of farmers who have tilled the land for many years;
- the source of drinking water that serves the nearby community being cut off;
- the port of Barrera, a long time source of livelihood of the people residing along the coastlines, now being made the catch basin of the mine toxic wastes in case of overflow and the possible contamination of the 21,000 hectares of 68 fishpond owners in 9 barangays.
The situation for local communities will continue to deteriorate if the mine becomes fully operational.
However, if support and solidarity is an indication, it’s that the mine will never see the full light of day.
As of March 23, the protest is attended by at least 7,000 villagers, fisherfolk, and other concerned citizens. Several NGO’s and Ecumenical groups, including the Catholic Church, have also expressed their support for the villagers.
It appears that the local government supports them aswell. Aroroy’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan (legislature) “has slammed them for lacking even the basic requirement of an Environment Compliance Certificate,” notes a press release from Alyansa Tigil Mina, a coalition of NGO’s opposed to large scale mining. “It was also recently revealed that FMC lacks a Mayor’s permit and a business permit.”
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