Protesters on hunger strike against mining on Mindoro Island
by Santosh Digal
Clergymen and tribal leaders oppose the government’s decision to end moratorium on nickel mining on the island fearing it would seriously damage the environment. Mining operations are expected to cover 20 per cent of the island’s land mass, displacing more than 20,000 indigenous people.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Two priests and 25 tribal leaders from Mindoro Island (200 kilometres south of Manila) have gone a hunger strike to stop three nickel mine operations that will eventually cover almost 20 per cent of the island’s land mass. They began their action this morning in front of the head office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City (Manila).

“The protest against mining is for the common good of the local people and environment,” Fr. Buyay Villaluna, parish priest at Saint Augustine in Calapan Vicariate. Everyone in the province is united in protest against the DENR and its disregard for “people’s concern” after 25 years of mining moratorium in the province, he said.

Mindoro Island is a major tourist destination, but also contains some of the largest nickel deposits in the world.

Three Norwegian mining companies, Intex Resources, Agusan Petroleum and Pitkin Ltd, plan to mine an area that covers 208,561 hectares, or almost 20 per cent of the total land area of the island. The mines are expected to produce 100 to 120 million tons of ore over a period of up to 20 years.

Local government officials have complained that the project would displace around 20,000 residents, mostly indigenous Mangyans. More importantly, the mining tenement is close to the critical watershed catchment of the Mag-asawang Tubig and Bucayao River systems, the largest source of water for the irrigation of about 40,000 hectares of rice lands, the residents’ main source of food. Locals are in fact quite concerned that mining would poison water sources. 

Mgr Sergio Utleg, head of the Commission on Indigenous Peoples of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and three other prelates celebrated a Mass at the protest site in support of the people on hunger strike.

For years, the Church has opposed indiscriminate mining by the government or private companies.