Tawi-Tawi mine stopped operation before Duterte’s suspension order
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippines — The mining operations on Tumbagaan Island off Languyan town in Tawi-Tawi province that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered suspended this week have ceased five years ago, an environment official in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) revealed on Friday.
Jonel Mohammad Monel, chief of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy (Menre) in Tawi-Tawi, said the extraction of high-grade nickel ores in Tumbagaan started in 2012 and ended in 2015.
The mining tenement operated by SR Languyan Mining Corp. covered some 250 hectares.
Monel said that since the mining firm stopped extraction operations on the island, it was now in the stage of conducting progressive rehabilitation of the mined-out area.
“There’s a progressive rehabilitation on the island but there’s been no mining operations there since 2015,” Monel told the Inquirer in a phone interview on Friday.
Monel admitted he made a five-minute presentation about Tumbagaan Island during the 50th Cabinet meeting presided by Mr. Duterte on Jan. 11 in Malacañang, upon the orders of Menre Minister Abdulraof Macacua.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President gave the order for the suspension of mining on Tumbagaan Island during Monday’s Cabinet meeting.
“The President is very much concerned about reports that the island has been completely devastated as a result of mining operations in the area. The island has at this point been mined out. And while rehabilitation efforts are underway, the President is issuing a directive to stop any and all mining in Tumbagaan Island, and to step up the rehabilitation of the area by planting more trees and other efforts of rehabilitation,” Nograles was quoted as saying.
Monel noted that the 900-ha island was not forested but mostly barren when the mining operation started there and, with the rehabilitation, it actually looks better now than before because the company planted trees.
Previously uninhabited, the island is now host to a thriving community, with a mosque, housing units, electricity and road networks which were developed out of the mining firm’s corporate social responsibility program, Monel said.
After securing a mineral production sharing agreement with government, SR Languyan had entered into a mines operating agreement with Altawitawi Nickel Corp., which reportedly shipped at least 15 million wet metric tons (WMT) of high-grade nickel ore to China from Tumbagaan Island.
SR Languyan was registered with the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) in 2014 with an investment of P520 million and a projected workforce of 650 individuals, records obtained by the Inquirer showed. Its status as of July 2015, however, was not indicated.
Altawitawi Nickel also has its own tenement that it registered with the RBOI in 2013 with an investment of P708 million, which was expected to generate 500 jobs. It has an active status as of July 2015, according to the RBOI list covering the period from 2012 to 2015.
There are two more mining companies registered in 2014 with the RBOI with operations in Languyan town. These are the Darussalam Mining Corp. and Pax Libera Mining Inc., each with active status as of July 2015.
In 2018, the RBOI announced in a press release that it has registered Mina Vida De Mindanao Corp. (MMC), with an investment of P940.5 million for a nickel mining project in Languyan town.
Mina Vida’s mining operation has a production capacity of 1.5 WMT nickel ore per year and is expected to generate 580 jobs for the locality upon the start of its commercial operations.
Not in Tumbagaan
MMC was registered with the Securities Exchange Commission in July 2016 primarily to carry on the business of mining that Altawitawi Nickel has started.
In the same year, Darussalam Mining and MMC entered into a mines operating agreement, with MMC acquiring the rights of Darussalam Mining. MMC started exporting high-grade nickel ore in August 2017 covering 567 ha of mineral claim, information posted on MMC website showed.
Monel said MMC did not operate on Tumbagaan Island but in Barangay Sikulis in mainland Languyan, and stopped operations in 2019.
Ishak Mastura, RBOI chair, said the mining companies operating in Languyan town registered with the agency “for purposes of compliance and to be counted as investors in the region.”
“But no fiscal incentives were given to them, so no revenue losses to the government,” Mastura said.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesperson of the BARMM government, said on Thursday that they had not yet received any written order from Malacañang to stop mining on Tumbagaan Island.
“We will await the official document and (will make our moves) on the basis of that act. If there are issues to be discussed relating to it, then we will bring it up in the appropriate mechanism for discussing issues between the national government and the Bangsamoro government,” Sinarimbo, also the minister of the interior and local government, said in a text message.
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