SC stops Zambales mines; Chinese ‘invaders’ socked

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Newsflash: The creeping Chinese invasion of Zambales mainland has been stopped — for now.

The Supreme Court yesterday issued a temporary environment protection order (TEPO) against 94 “small-scale mines” that extract nickel in Zambales. Among the “small” mines are at least five fronts of giant nickel miners from China (see Gotcha, 24 July 2013). Allegedly operating outside the allowable area, the mines are illegal, pollutive, unregulated, untaxed, and destabilizing the economy.

The SC en banc acted on a petition of ten Masinloc townsmen for a TEPO against Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane, the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, and one Camilo Esico.

Covered by the TEPO are respondents Environment and Natural Resources Sec. Ramon Paje, his Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Dept. of Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine National Police.

In a 35-page petition filed July 17, the townsfolk decried Ebdane’s granting of small-scale mining permits (SSMPs) outside the officially designated “minahang bayan.” As example, they cited the ones given to Esico in 2010, good for two years, and again in 2012, valid till 2014.

Provincial capitols may issue SSMPs under the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991. But these are supposed to be within the zone for subsistence miners, who employ only brawn, picks, and shovels.

The Zambales nickel miners in Masinloc and Sta. Cruz towns use sophisticated excavators, crushers, loaders, and explosives. Thousands of dump trucks laden with ore line up the national highway and side roads.

The five Chinese fronts have built a common wharf in Sta. Cruz, betraying the fact that they are one operation. Their mother companies are Jiangxi Rare Earth & Metals Tungsten Group, Wei-Wei Group, and Nihao Mineral Resources Inc. All tainted by bribery reports, they set up the five “small mines” through Filipino dummies.

Other “small” miners deliver ore to the Chinese-built pier, from which sail off four Chinese bulk carriers a week. Processed in China, the nickel is used for hi-tech weaponry and surveillance systems mobilized to sabotage the Philippine military and economy into submission. The Philippines is China’s top supplier of nickel.

Mining pollution of the rivers and seas are forcing fishermen from Masinloc, Sta. Cruz, and Infanta, Pangasinan, to sail farther out to sea. But when they enter the vicinity of the Bajo de Masinloc shoal, Chinese warships shell them back to shore.

China in 2012 grabbed the shoal, also called Panatag, 124 miles west of Zambales. It is well within the Philippines 200-mile exclusive economic zone, but 800 miles from the nearest Chinese coast. Chinese military vessels escort fish poachers from Hainan province, and forbid Filipinos from entering the traditional fishing grounds. China’s creeping invasion of Zambales mainland for nickel began eight years earlier, but worsened only recently.

Aside from Esico’s, Ebdane issued 93 other SSMPs in just one day, on July 12, 2011, the petitioners revealed. He invoked Presidential Decree 1899, but the townsmen said the People’s Small-Scale Mining already had repealed it. But the DENR issued a memo allowing the application of both the Presidential Decree and superseding Republic Act. So the petitioners included Paje as answerable.

Residents of Masinloc-Sta. Cruz-Infanta suffer the worst air pollution in the country due to mining waste, explosives, ore dust, and dump truck emissions. Having the highest morbidity incidence of acute respiratory infections, they have taken to calling the destructive Chinese miners’ abettors “modern-day Makapili” collaborators.

The petitioners said that national and provincial environment officials, and policemen see Esico openly using heavy equipment for his “small-scale” mine. The policemen even escort the trucks and guard the mine gates.

The MGB reports 291 SSMPs to have been issued as of last April 12. Ninety-nine of these are in Zambales alone.

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CORRECTION: Today’s Global Protest Action against China’s invasion of Panatag Shoal will be held in front of the Chinese consulate, World Center, 330 Gil Puyat (Buendia) Avenue, Makati, not the embassy on Roxas Boulevard. Same time: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wear blue.

Other Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide will be picketed on this Global Day of Protest.

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The Social Security System is a private mutual provident fund of its members. Since it is losing and can’t last for long, President Noynoy Aquino wants to enlarge SSS mandatory contributions by 0.6 percent. Employers and employees are to equally share the increase.

Sounds logical? Not if we look at the other side of the story.

The government forcibly administers the SSS for the members. The President appoints the head and board of trustees without membership consultation. The appointees in turn hire and direct the officers, again sans membership voice. The past four decades saw a train of crooked, inept appointees who stole from or misspent the SSS fund. They took kickbacks from multibillion-peso stock investments, corporate loans, and office purchases. They raised the officers’ perks and condoned members’ arrears to cover their tracks. No wonder the SSS is going bankrupt.

Given that truth, isn’t it just for the government, not the innocent members, to bail out the SSS? Also, for the thieves to be jailed and made to return their loot? To some extent, taxes that will be used to rescue the SSS will come from its very 23 million members, majority of the country’s work force. But since the SSS woes are basically the government’s fault, the bailout can be deducted from the congressional pork, till the fund reverts to “perpetuity” of 70 years.

The planned 0.6-percent contribution hike is just for starters. The present SSS contribution rate is 10.6 percent of a workman’s salary (7.2 from the employer, 3.4 from the employee). If no member benefit is added in the interim, the 0.6-percent extra will extend the SSS’ lifespan till 2047. Trustees estimate a total contribution hike of 14.1 percent, while keeping benefits at present levels, to give the SSS a 70-year spread, the international standard. For members to enjoy more benefits, payments must reach about 21 percent, same as the Government Service Insurance System, or Turkey and Malaysia.

 The President can try to sell that idea to SSS members, but with a promise to punish past crooks and thwart future ones.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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