The online news portal of TV5
BATARAZA, Palawan - Amid debates over how realistic is the recently issued Executive Order 79, one mining firm with operations here asserts responsible mining is possible despite criticisms hurled at the industry.
In the hinterlands of southern Palawan lies the sprawling Rio Tuba mining site operated by Nickel Asia Corporation, one of the country’s biggest mining firms. The firm runs an open pit mining area, gathering tons of raw nickel and then processing them in the Hydrometallurgical Processing Plant (HPP) owned by the joint Japanese and Filipino venture Coral Bay Nickel Corporation.
But aside from operating a highly-profitable mining area, Nickel Asia touts a policy of ensuring that residents in the barangay of Rio Tuba in Bataraza town are treated well.
InterAksyon.com was among those recently given a tour of the huge mining area in Rio Tuba by Nickel Asia President Gerardo Brimo.
But apart from the mining site, there are schools, hospitals and housing facilities provided for employees, villagers and indigenous peoples.
The tour was conducted weeks before a Japanese NGO, Friends of the Earth Japan, claimed that findings of its April-May 2012 study that two mines and a processing plant operated by Nickel Asia showed the drinking water sources of the mining towns of Claver in Surigao del Norte and Bataraza in Palawan were contaminated by hexavalent chromium, a chemical that can cause liver damage, skin diseases and cancer .
Both Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation employ over 4,000 employees, consisting of regular, contractual and contractor’s employees. All of these employees get to enjoy benefits including bonuses, medical access, free education,
yearly bonuses and a “generous retirement pay.”
In fact, just last year, both firms spent over P215 million on health care, education and infrastructure projects.
Just a few minutes away from the Rio Tuba mining site is a housing facility called the “town site” that has a population of about 6,000
people consisting of mining employees and their dependents. The village-type housing facility also has a school, hospital and recreational area.
Majority of the students of the Leonides Virata Memorial School are children of Rio Tuba employees and they get a huge discount on
tuition---paying only P120 a year for elementary students and P300 a year for high school students.
A hospital nearby caters to almost 4,000 patients monthly and offers basic medical services like radiography, sonography,
dental and laboratory services and also has an operating room and deliver room.
Gawad Kalinga also constructed free houses for indigenous peoples in the area and offers free education to IPs.
'No harm to environment'
Of the total 1.4 million hectares of land mass in Palawan, only less than one percent, or 1,557 hectares, are devoted to mining, Brimo says. And these, he stresses, are “not agricultural land,” and therefore pose no threat to the livelihood of residents.
In fact, Brimo says the “environment here is a lot better than the pre-mining state due to improved soil.”
Brimo claims that Nickel Asia was able to convert post-mining land into land that is able to grow crops and trees.
Dr. Bibiano Ranes, unit head of the mining rehabilitation and reforestation area, is responsible for converting post-mining land
into agricultural land.
“If we say mining in Palawan destroys biodiversity, that’s not true,” Ranes asserts.
Nickel Asia was able to convert a 25-hectare mined out area into a sprawling agricultural area that grows papaya, grapes, palay and other
crops, he notes.
Mining as growth driver
Brimo says that in Bataraza where the Rio Tuba mining site is based, mining helped make the town a first-class municipality in the province of Palawan and out of the 23 municipalities in the province, Bataraza is ranked:
- 2nd in income
- 2nd in equity
- 3rd in cash balances
- 4th in assets
Amid all the criticisms on mining, in the end Brimo says responsible mining is still possible.
“Mining can be responsible and can be a catalyst for change in a society,” he says. He adds that mining does not only provide livelihood for residents but also allows them to have “all-inclusive growth.”