Former Palawan governor Joel T. Reyes faces P5-M mining damage suit
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Farmers from the southern Palawan town of Narra have filed a P5-million damage suit against former Gov. Joel T. Reyes, several other officials and a foreign mining company for mine tailings pollution in their rice fields and violation of the country’s mining regulations.
The complainants, assisted by a volunteer lawyers’ group, filed the civil suit on Tuesday at the regional trial court here.
Named respondents were Reyes, who was then head of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, and board members former Vice Gov. David Ponce de Leon, Eleuterio Rubio, Lucena Demaala, Elena Vergara-Rodriguez, Joselito Alisuag, Samson Negosa and Fernando Tactay. They approved in 2006 the small scale mining permit of three Filipino companies allegedly being used as dummies of a Canadian mining investor.
The farmers, from Barangay Calategas, Narra, said their rice fields have been contaminated with laterite (soil rich in iron, aluminum and nickel ores) allegedly from wastes coming from the operations of three firms that were allegedly being used by the Canadian firm MBMI Resources Inc.
Lawyer Zha-Zha Maguad, of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, said the complainants paid no filing fee for the suit because of a Supreme Court ruling that waived filing fees for environmental cases.
“The new SC rules on environmental cases allow poor communities the chance to seek redress without having to bother with prohibitive filing fees normally associated with civil cases seeking compensation for damages,” Maguad said.
Reyes and the other officials granted small scale mining permits to Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corp., Patricia Louise Mining and Development Corp. and Palawan Alpha South Resources, who were allegedly just fronts for MBMI Resources Inc.
The permits were issued in 2006 and renewed in 2008 for a mining site over which MBMI was also applying for a permit to operate.
The officials were accused of deliberately ignoring the complaints of farmers over mine tailings pollution. The village of Calategas (pop. 4,979) is populated mostly by rice farmers, their fields dependent on river irrigation.
The farmers have started complaining of laterite siltation in their rice fields since the start of mining operations in 2006.
The Palawan NGO Network, a nongovernment organization, opposed at the mining operations at the outset, alleging that these were by foreign controlled dummy companies that should not be awarded small scale mining permits.
The complaint said the mining board allowed the operations despite the companies’ failure to comply with permit regulations including the submission of an environmental protection and enhancement program and water permits.
The complainants also alleged that there was “no genuine consultation” with residents prior to the mining operations.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved MBMI’s application for a mining license before stepping down from office in 2010 but this was quickly revoked under the administration of President Aquino soon after.
Narra Nickel, the main local company, has gone inactive since the cancellation of the license. Efforts to reach MBMI, at its main office in Ortigas, proved futile as no company official was available for comments.
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