BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Environmental advocates in Cagayan province on Sunday lamented the apparent helplessness of the government in stopping what they described as illegal black sand mining operations by foreign companies, mostly Chinese, in the province’s northern coastal areas.
Esperlita Garcia, board director of the Federation of Environmental Advocates of Cagayan (Feac), said antimining advocates there were appalled by how the Chinese have continued dodging stoppage orders from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and a recent crackdown launched by the National Bureau of Investigation.
“Their activities stopped only for a while [when the NBI] arrested a number of Chinese personnel. But after only a few weeks, they resumed [operations]. That day in late August when authorities seized some of their heavy equipment, activities resumed that very same night,” Garcia said.
In Gonzaga town, Garcia said operations continued in Cabanbanan Norte, Casitan and Calayan villages, with heavy equipment now digging up even front yards of residents’ houses in exchange for little compensation.
Even sections of the public cemetery in Casitan were not spared, she said, with excavators destroying tombs and scatter skeletons.
“It was stopped only when a backhoe fell into a huge pit that a mining company was digging, killing the operator and his assistant. But they just moved elsewhere,” said Garcia, a Gonzaga native.
Feac sources said black sand mining had gone unabated in Aparri and Buguey towns, where the NBI conducted a series of raids against mining operations that are run by undocumented Chinese.
“It is even worse here because the black sand that is dug up from the mouth of the Cagayan River is directly loaded onto barges and cargo vessels and are immediately smuggled out of the country,” said the source, who asked not to be named for fear of his safety.
Garcia expressed dismay that despite the breakthroughs that the anti-black sand mining task force achieved in recent months and the series of letters and petitions they had sent to Malacañang, Chinese companies have managed to continue with their operations.
“We are surprised by the tremendous power that these foreign mining companies wield in our country. They seem to be above the law,” Garcia said.
But Mario Ancheta, regional director of the MGB in Cagayan Valley, clarified that the reported ongoing black sand extraction activities were legitimate operations.
“Only extraction within the 200-meter zone [from the coastline] is prohibited. As for Aparri and Lal-lo [towns], they have this existing [memorandum of agreement] for the dredging of the Cagayan River,” he said.
Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. confirmed that operations continued in his town, but denied that these violated environmental laws.
“I do not have the authority to stop them because they have been issued permits. But we [in the local government] are doing our best to make sure they comply with the laws and that they do not cause too much environmental damage,” Pentecostes said.
He dismissed reports that black sand extraction extended up to the Casitan public cemetery.
“It was about to be mined but the company backed off due to a Chinese belief about the curse that the desecration of the dead brings to their business,” he said.
Buguey Mayor Lloyd Antiporda also denied that illegal black sand mining continued in his town.
“We are currently preparing for the dredging of the [Buguey lagoon] which may have been mistaken as part of mining operations,” he said.
The Inquirer tried to reach Aparri Mayor Ismael Tumaru but he did not respond to text messages sent to his mobile phone on Sunday. Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon