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Groups oppose 'destructive' offshore mining project in Cagayan

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Groups oppose 'destructive' offshore mining project in Cagayan
Screengrab from Google Maps shows Gonzaga town in Cagayan.
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MANILA, Philippines — The large-scale offshore magnetite mining in Cagayan province could harm marine life and ecosystems in the area and affect fishers' access to their fishing grounds, organizations opposing the project said.

In a letter sent to Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials, local government officials, and lawmakers, 74 groups said the activity is “destructive and has irreversible negative impact” to marine ecosystems.

Whales, dugongs in danger

The groups stressed the project will potentially impact the ecosystems in the Palaui Island Protected Landscape and Seacape, including 50 hectares of corals and seagrass beds that are important habitats for the critically endangered dugong.

They also said the activity poses hazards to marine mammals since the proposed site is the only known breeding area for humpback whales in the Philippines. The area is also part of the Babuyan Marine Corridor, a key biodiversity area and a priority conservation site.

“Noise, oil and water pollution that would emanate from the mining activities would affect the marine mammals in the area and their habitat, directly or indirectly, causing them to be disturbed or injured and might even lead to their death,” the groups said in a position paper.

“The increase in turbidity may result in disturbances in spawning of the marine mammals’ prey items. The eggs and larvae of their prey are at high risk from entrainment, decreasing prey availability for the marine mammals,” they added.

According to the project fact sheet uploaded on the website of DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau, the extraction process through siphon vessel with magnetic separator, poses “no hazard at all and no social complication as the siphon vessel is stationed at the ocean far from the shore.” 

Fisherfolk access

The project of JDVC Resources Corp. is said to be the first massive offshore magnetite mining in the Philippines. The firm is allowed to mine within an area of 1,092.59 hectares located 14 kilometers offshore from the town of Gonzaga.

The DENR greenlighted the project last year, according to reports.

“This impacts livelihood of fisherfolk and possible violation of their constitutionally guaranteed preferential right to access their fishing grounds,” the groups said.

They also said the siphoning activity and the return of discarded sand from mining magnetite may cause hypersedimentation. This may result in disturbance to benthic organisms in sandy areas, which will affect fishers and people relying on marine resources in the area.

But the project’s fact sheet said the siphoning action does not produce significant sea bottom topography disturbances.

The organizations also pointed out that the project may potentially add to reported disputes over the industry between the New People’s Army and illegal foreign companies.

Possible violations

According to the groups, the “project goes against the precautionary principle for the protection of the environment, enforcement of our laws and our international commitments.”

Its impacts may violate Presidential Decree 979, which prohibits the dumping of any kind of wastes from vessels arising from exploitation of seabed mineral resources, they said

They added that under the Fisheries Code, aquatic pollution through dumping of substances is unlawful. The Clean Water Act also prohibits the discharge of any kind of material that could cause water pollution or impede natural flow in the body of water.

“We demand transparency and for government to make available to the public the documents required under environmental impact assessment laws and regulations and public consultation compliance,” the organizations said.

“We demand science-based and sustainable use of our natural resources… We demand compliance to laws and international commitment for sustainable development. We demand that peoples’ voices be heard, especially the affected communities who will bear the impacts of this project,” they added.

The signatories include Oceana, Alyansa Tigil Mina, Greenpeace Philippines, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines.

DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES

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