SURIGAO CITY—They’re in it for the long haul.
Dozens of protesters who have camped outside the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) here have vowed a no-letup demonstration unless the mining company they accuse of destroying their locality stops operating.
The protesters, mostly from Cantilan town in Surigao del Sur, are demanding that the MGB enforce a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) issued against Marcventures Mining and Development Corp. in November 2010. They have slept and eaten in makeshift tents they constructed just outside the MGB compound since arriving on March 11.
Simultaneously, Manobo tribesmen blocked the Marcventures’ access road in Barangay Cabangahan in Cantilan yesterday morning, demanding from the company a stop to its operation within their 2,000-hectare ancestral domain. The firm mines nickel ores within a 4,700-hectare area that straddles Cantilan and Carrascal towns.
Jimmy Bad-ao, Manobo tribal chieftain in the area, said they have only one demand: “We want Marcventures to leave our ancestral domain—nothing else.”
Bad-ao said they would continue blocking the roads leading to their ancestral domain unless Marcventures abandons the area and pull out their equipment.
“We won’t leave until we are assured that Marcventures can no longer operate on the basis of the Tepo,” Emma Hotchkiss, chairperson of civil society group Nagpakabana na CarCanMadCarLanon, told the Inquirer.
Marventures said it has complied with the 72-hour Tepo and argued that the court order extending the injunction was illegal.
“To say that the 72-hour Tepo is still in effect after the lapse of 72 hours is contrary to Rule 2, Section 8 of Administrative Matter No. 09-6-8 issued by the Supreme Court,” said lawyer Noel A. Libres, the firm’s corporate secretary.
The provision of the Rules of Procedures for Environmental Cases states: “If it appears from the verified complaint with a prayer for the issuance of an Environmental Protection Order that the matter is of extreme urgency and the applicant will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury, the executive judge of the multiple-sala court before raffle or the presiding judge of a single-sala court, as the case may be, may issue ex parte a Tepo effective for only 72 hours from date of the receipt of the Tepo by the party or person enjoined. Within said period, the court where the case is assigned shall conduct a summary hearing to determine whether the Tepo may be extended until the termination of the case.”
Citing this rule, Libres said extending the Tepo could not have been legally possible because “no summary hearing was conducted, no evidence was presented by the complainant and there was no extension effecting the Tepo” within its 72-hour life.
The regional court in Cantilan, which issued the Nov. 10, 2010, Tepo, issued the extension order only on May 26, 2011, stating that the “Tepo issued by this court is declared still subsisting and effective until there is an order lifting, revoking or dissolving it.”
This legal conundrum has put MGB-Caraga Director Roger de Dios in a bind.
De Dios, who assumed office only last October and inherited the case from Director Alilo Ensomo, took the same line as his predecessor, saying the case is best settled in courts and that the matter is no longer in the hands of the MGB.
But Chito Trillanes, Social Action Center spokesperson, views De Dios’s position as inaction on the MGB’s part.
“The MGB is a regulatory body but it sadly refuses to do its duty on this matter,” said Trillanes, noting that on Aug. 18, 2011, MGB Director Leo Jasareno ordered the MGB-Caraga to enforce the Tepo.
Trillanes and other antimining groups have accused Marcventures of destroying a declared watershed forest reserve where it conducts nickel mining operations.
They allege that the company’s operations have drastically reduced the water volume in Cantilan and Madrid towns to the detriment of farmers who depend on a stable water supply to sustain their crops. Danilo Adorador III, Inquirer Mindanao