For four years, fisherman Levi Lalim fought to save the only source of livelihood he knew.
Lalim recalled that months after a mining venture began extracting iron ore in a hill in Barangay (village) Bagumbayan in Paracale, Camarines Norte, in 2008, reddish mud dashed through rivulets draining to the open sea, suffocating around 40 hectares of coral reefs and mangrove trees.
He can lay his worries aside—at least for the moment.
Uni-Dragon Mining and Development Corp., which owns the facility operated by Philippine Baotong Mining Corp. in Sitio Pulang Daga, Barangay Bagumbayan, has promised to get rid of the toxic mine tailings blanketing the fish habitat and to rehabilitate the shoreline of his town.
Lalim, 56, has been on the frontline of the campaign against the environmental destruction in Pulang Daga. He heads a committee of the Samahan ng mga Mangingisda ng Paracale (Samapa), which launched the campaign against the mining facility.
The income of the fishermen started to decline in 2009 as the pollutants slowly strangled the coral reefs and their surroundings, Lalim said. From the P500 he usually earned every night from fishing, the amount dropped to P200 and, at times, even zero, he said.
In less than a year, fish in the reef choked by waist-deep mud became scarce and were finally gone in 2009.
In 2009, the fishermen filed a complaint with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Camarines Norte and the local government of Paracale and called for a stop to the mining operations.
Their action, which was supported by the local Jaycees headed by Rio Paliza, attracted media attention and resulted in the issuance by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of a cease and desist order on June 25, 2012, suspending indefinitely the operations of Uni-Dragon and Baotong.
The order came after an extensive investigation of the DENR in 2011 revealed the adverse effects of the mine tailings on the communities and the environment.
Director Roberto D. Sheen of the regional Environmental Management Bureau confirmed the presence of red mud blanketing the coral reefs and mangroves. Only a water-treatment facility can restore the cleanliness of the seabed, but this would cost a fortune which must be shouldered by the mining firms, he said.
Acting Director Leo Jasareno of the MGB declined to comment on the case. In a previous interview, he said the bureau would not lift the cease and desist order until the companies have taken steps to rehabilitate the area.
After a persistent clamor from residents for the mining companies to clean up their hometown’s coast, executives and other representatives from Uni-Dragon and Philippine Baotong agreed to rehabilitate the 40 hectares of corals and mangroves destroyed by mine tailings.
The commitment was “formalized” in a memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by Francisco Trajano, chair and CEO of Philippine Baotong; Morrys Ang, president of Uni-Dragon; Lalim and other heads of Samapa; and the local government represented by Mayor Romeo Moreno. Uni-Dragon was granted a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement and a large-scale mining permit by the MGB to explore the mining potentials of Pulang Daga, according to Jesus Ramos, the company’s consultant. Ramos explained that Philippine Baotong was Uni-Dragon’s partner in the mining project in Pulang Daga. He said Baotong’s role was to supervise the overall operation of the mining facility.
Ramos, who served as the company’s link to the fishermen and residents of Paracale, said he himself felt sorry for the environmental destruction that resulted from the mining operation.
Help to community
Lalim said he was not exactly against mining, citing the benefits he derived from the industry when he was a miner himself. The only thing he cared about was the conservation of the environment in Paracale and the livelihood of the fishing community which was greatly affected by the destruction of the coral reefs, he pointed out.
Under the MOA, Ang and Trajano promised to assist the community through livelihood programs and hiring of qualified residents as employees, as well as providing transportation assistance, safety gear and other benefits to them.
Uni-Dragon and Baotong will provide P28,000 worth of mangrove seedlings to be planted in Pulang Daga to replace those damaged by the mine tailings, and seven fishing nets and 20 cap lamps for Lalim’s group.
Lalim is clinging to faith that the companies will keep their promises.