Black sand mining continues at night
GONZAGA, Philippines— At first glance, the processing plants that dot coastal communities in Cagayan province show no sign of activity, backing local officials’ claim that black sand mining has stopped.
But as night falls, residents are roused from their sleep as heavy machinery starts running, and Dugo-San Vicente Road becomes busy with dump trucks bringing processed magnetite to Port Irene inside the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Sta. Ana town.
“Many people here, especially those living on the roadsides, have been deprived of sleep because the dump trucks, about 200 of them, run at night,” said antimining advocate Esperlita Garcia.
Mining companies were using this new tack to evade detection by law enforcement agencies, mainly the National Bureau of Investigation, she said.
Since last year, the NBI has been raiding companies that operate illegally, seizing heavy equipment and arresting Chinese workers without valid working permits.
“The operators perhaps believe that they will not get the attention of residents if their operations are done at night. But that is impossible because people get awakened by the roar of the engines and the shaking of the ground,” said Garcia, adviser of Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation (Gaepp).
A Malacañang-formed task force last year found that black sand extraction activities in Cagayan were being conducted by foreign companies, mainly Chinese, that hold permits issued either by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) or the provincial government.
Other firms operate through special agreements with local governments, like in the towns of Lal-lo, Camalaniugan and Aparri.
Mario Ancheta, acting MGB director for Cagayan Valley, said the government collected 2-percent excise tax, extraction fees of $6 per metric ton and other fees from black sand mining.
Last month, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council recommended to President Aquino a ban on black sand mining in the country and the prosecution of government officials conniving with Chinese companies. Malacañang has yet to act on the recommendations.
The Inquirer visited the areas last week and saw black sand processing start at dusk.
Residents said Chinese mining companies, with suspended or revoked permits, had resumed operations by forming new firms.
By 9 p.m., convoys of dump trucks take the highway for the 40-kilometer travel to Port Irene, where the black sand is unloaded for shipment overseas. The trips will go on until the following morning.
Local officials gave different explanations.
In Aparri town, Julius Catral, executive assistant to Mayor Shalimar Tumaru, said the black sand extraction activities were for the construction of a retaining wall to protect coastal communities from storm surges.
Catral said foreign companies had committed to build the wall at no cost to the government but in exchange for the processed magnetite.
Mayor Lloyd Antiporda, of Buguey town, said the black sand operations in his town had stopped and those with ongoing activities were only collecting their remaining stockpile.