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CANTILAN, Surigao del Sur - More than 5,000 people from all over Surigao del Sur converged in Madrid town Saturday, heeding a bishop’s call for a protest against mining, while simultaneous pro-mining rallies were held 8 kilometers away in Carrascal town.
Tandag Bishop Nereo P. Odchimar, backed by environmental and civic organizations in the Caraga region, had sent a letter a week earlier to all Surigao del Sur priests. In it he said the sin against nature and the environment is something that will affect people forever. After the ecology is destroyed, it is very hard to restore it to its original state and beauty, he explained.
Saturday’s anti-mining protest opened with a human chain by the townsfolk of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza (CarCanMadCarLan), but they failed to connect the towns due to the vast agricultural area that separates the municipalities.
An hour later vehicles from other parts of Surigao del Sur as far as Bislig City started to arrive at the Carac-an Bridge to participate in the concelebrated mass by all parish priests in all the 18 towns of Surigao del Sur.
Cantilan Bank executive vice-president and retired B/Gen. Charles Y. Hotchkiss, one of those who supported the protests, was pleased that many people joined them.
“No matter who we are, we have to be responsible for the well-being of our environment. This is our life and the lives of the people here in our communities that will be affected if we don’t act soon,” said Hotchkiss.
The retired general said the Carac-an river feeds the 14 irrigation system that provides farmers with water.
“Our environment is a gift from God, but creation is in pain because we can see the destruction imposed by man on it. It is very important for us to express how we feel in the protection of our environment, because God did not transfer ownership to us but transferred stewardship to us as caretakers of mother earth,” said Fr. Elvis Petros, Diocesan Temporalities of Tandag.
Cantilan town Mayor Genito Guardo said the event is the biggest and the first for CarCanMadCarLan and showed the people’s united voice in the call against mining and the destruction of the eco-system.
“Since 1995 our town had stood in defiance against mining companies who tried to came in and establish there trade here. But sad to say that they are finding a different way to get inside our town. Now Marc-Venture mining has started it's operation in Barangay Kabangahan part of this town without any business permit and mayors permit because the MGB and DENR has already issued an Environmental Certificate of Compliance,” said Mayor Guardo.
A consolidated police force from the towns representing CarCanMadCarLan deployed 100 of its personnel along the length of the bridge area supported by the Provincial Public Safety Battalion and rescue ambulances and even firetrucks.
Pro-mining rally also held
Meanwhile, 8 kilometers from where the anti-mining protest was being held in the town of Carrascal, workers of three mining firms together with the local government unit staged their own mass action, but in defense of mining in Surigao.
Carrascal town Mayor Vincente T. Pimentel explained: “The contribution of mining to our town has been enormous since it started five years ago and has helped us a lot in helping us grow and also helped the people. The presence of minerals in his town is a gift from God and this must be utilized for the advancement of the people,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel pointed out that mining has greatly reformed his municipal government unit, which is a 4th class municipality and he hopes to get it transformed eventually into a 2nd class town.
“These mining companies have an annual contribution of P70 million to the local government from P6 per ton as environmental hazard pay. A total of 140 million total of infrastructure projects has been spent on this town which came from mining. We now have scholarship grants, hospitals, firetrucks, better irrigation projects as a result of this,” he said.
The mayor said over 4,000 people are being employed by the mining industry and that if the anti-mining groups can give them far better jobs, then he is challenging them to find these for the workers.
A stage with live band and entertainers was set up beside the town's national highway to voice support for the mining industry in the town. Majority of those who attended even wore their mining uniform complete with early warning vest and helmet.
Three large-scale mining firms are currently operating in the town: Carrascal Nickel Corporation, Marc Ventures Mining Development Corporation and Clarence T Pimentel Mining.
When asked why they attended the rally, the employees said they were forced to do so.
The wife of a miner from the Mamanua tribe brought her children with her to the rally. Domalyn Calinawan, 30, of Barangay Adlay, Carrascal, Surigao del Sur said the presence of mining operations uplift their situation, compared to the life they used to earn as fishermen.