Zambales town protests nickel mining activities
STA. CRUZ, Zambales — Swirls of an unusual red-orange dust greet people passing along the national highway in this coastal town. A muddied shoreline, lopped-off mountains, fishponds and farms that have gone dry, and rivers and streams heavy with silt are common sights.
Residents say the ill-effects of nickel ore mining have been too hard to ignore as threats to their environment, livelihood and lives.
“Our environment is bleeding,” says Dr. Benito Molino, chair of Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz, Zambales (CCOSZ).
During the Earth Day celebration today, Benito will lead the residents in protesting the environmental destruction, which they believe has “brought diseases and economic losses to the people.”
Luisito Capili, 63, operator of a 2-hectare fishpond in Sitio Dampay in Barangay San Fernando, says mining operations have taken their toll on fishponds. Owners like him have lost their only source of income.
Nickel laterite (laterite is a soil layer rich in iron oxide) has been washed away from the mining sites by floods, destroying Capili’s fishpond.
“Most families of farmers are now suffering. They have less food on their table and their children have to stop schooling,” Molino says.
According to him, the average rice yield went down from 100 to 70 sacks per hectare while at least P100,000 is lost per hectare of fishpond in every harvest.
Mango production has also suffered, Molino says.
At least four mining companies operate in Sta. Cruz town, all producing nickel laterite, says Danilo Uykieng, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Central Luzon.
Eramen Minerals Inc., one of the mining firms, is doing its best to improve its system and help the communities, says Karlo Flores, its pollution control officer.
“We are compensating the farmers and we have ongoing research to validate the other concerns of the communities,” Flores said in a meeting on Monday with Lormelyn Claudio, Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) director in Central Luzon.
Claudio says the EMB is addressing the issues raised by the residents of Sta. Cruz.
“There’s no overnight solution,” she says, adding that the MGB is ensuring that mining companies meet all the conditions that her office has set, especially for hauling operations.
Today, CCOSZ is holding a rally to urge concerned agencies to cancel all permits issued in this town and nearby Candelaria town.
The group, in a statement, demanded that the mining companies clear all the nickel laterite and other debris from farmlands, fishponds, rivers, roads and shoreline.
“We were left with no choice but to bring our complaints to the higher agencies of the government— the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, MGB and EMB—hoping that they will stop the bleeding of the environment and protect the welfare and rights of the people,” the group said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.