A Roman Catholic bishop warned that the country could face more disasters on top of the  prevailing Covid-19 pandemic after President Rodrigo Duterte recently lifted the ban on mining operations in the country.

Bishop Crispin Varquez of the Diocese of Borongan, Eastern Samar, said in a said in a pastoral letter released Monday that lifting the moratorium on new mining projects would further “exploit our already much-wounded land”.

“New mining operations will only worsen our environmental crisis on top of this health pandemic,” Varquez said.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed on April 14 and made public on April 15, Executive Order (EO) 130 that lifted a nine-year moratorium on granting new mining permits in the Philippines imposed by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, following public clamor over a spate of mining accidents. The EO is expected to hasten the entry of at least 291 existing mining applications and prop up the economy badly hit by the raging pandemic.  However, anti-mining and environmental groups say this would escalate threats to the environment.

Varquez questioned Duterte’s move due to lack of “dialogue for the common good” among all concerned stakeholders.

“We call on President Rodrigo Duterte to issue again an Executive Order for mining moratorium in the Philippines,” Varquez said.

For the Diocese of Borongan, the island has no history of responsible mining.

“Our local experience provides enough evidence,” Varquez said. “Bagacay, Homonhon and Manicani cry out this truth”.

Varquez said since Samar, the country’s third largest island, is hilly and mountainous, mining makes lowland communities more susceptible to flooding and pollution from mining operations.

“Locals may be temporarily employed or benefited. But the long-term consequence of a devastated landscape is also incalculable and irreversible,” Varquez said.

Eastern Samar hosts decades-old chromite and nickel mining operations on the historic Homonhon Island in Guiuan town.

In 2002 a nickel mining operation on Manicani Island, also in Guiuan, was shutdown over human rights and environmental issues.  Reports say there are efforts to revive mining operation.

Western Samar’s Hinabangan town is still haunted by the Bagacay copper and pyrite mine spill disaster that adversely affected communities near it, especially those along the Taft River in Easter Samar.  

The mine has been blamed for degrading the quality of Taft River, causing fish kills, siltation, and overflowing, leading to the inundation of agricultural land along its banks and the death of crops.

From 1956–1985, Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corp. (MMIC) operated the mine primarily for copper minerals. In 1986, MMIC entered into an agreement with the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp., which then tied up with its subsidiary, the Philippine Pyrite Corporation (PPC), to operate the mine from 1986 to 1992 for pyrite concentrates.  PPC closed shop in 1992 due to the rising operational cost of recovery and labor dispute.  – Rommel F. Lopez