Monday, August 14, 2006

RTNMC Eyes Expansion In Core Zone

By Eliseo Valendez & Ian Anthony Davatos

THE RIO TUBA Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) is eyeing Mount Bulanjao, classified as a core zone under the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) in Palawan, for its expansion project in the municipality of Bataraza.

The company has applied for a Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), which is one of the requirements for a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement for its proposed expansion site covering 990 hectares in Mt. Bulanjao.

But non-government organizations and peoples’ organizations are opposing the expansion.

The Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI) objected to the proposed amendments of the ECAN Map during the PCSD Environment and Natural Resources committee hearing held at the Legislative Building last July 19.

Considering that the area falls under the core zone in the 2005 ECAN map, PNNI volunteer lawyer Atty. Jayjay Panfilo asked, “Maaari bang magmina o magsagawa ng ano pa mang gawain sa lugar?

“If the mining operation will destroy the core zone, which is home to endangered and endemic animals in Palawan, there is no need for any negotiation to alter or change the law,” Panfilo pointed out.

The mining company has gained the support of the Bataraza municipal council. The Sangguniang Bayan of Bataraza approved and adopted “A Resolution Earnestly Requesting the PCSD to Amend Zonation of Bataraza, Province of Palawan and Incorporating Said Amendment into the Municipal Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan” last Jan. 9, 2006, to accommodate the company’s application.

The RTNMC, whose operation in the area started in the 1970s, requested the PCSD to give “due course” to the resolution.

In a letter dated April 19, 2006, RTNMC senior vice president Jose Saret asked the PCSD “to allow mining activities in Mt. Bulanjao,” which has an elevation of 1,000 meters.

The letter also revealed that the company “holds a Mining Lease Contract over an area along the ridge of Mt. Bulanjao which was granted on June 29, 1978 and June 25, 1979 and has presently applied for renewal and conversion to MPSA.

“The MPSA applied area contains a sizeable deposit of nickel ore which can considerably extend the economic life of RTNMC’s mineral properties. This will serve as the main source of the ore feed which will justify and support the projected expansion of the processing plant of the Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) from its present capacity of 10,000 tons of nickel per annum to 20,000 tons of nickel per annum,” Saret said in the letter.

Damage to Farm Lots

“On the environment aspect, RTNMC and CBNC have proven track record in protection and enhancement activities,” Saret claimed.

However, PNNI recalled that last year, mining waste spread throughout Sitio Raquiom in Bataraza and along farm lots near the mine site, and the company is still paying for the damage until now.

Engr. Mario Cartaroja of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau said destruction is inevitable in any mining operation, but he believes it can be mitigated. “If the activity will destroy one tree, it should be replaced with 10 trees.”

In his letter, Saret said the CBNC’s principal stockholder, Sumimoto Metal Mining Co., Ltd., would invest US$285 million to build a second plant in April 2009.

“The expansion project will bring in a significant amount of foreign direct investment and create new jobs as well as sources of revenue for the Province of Palawan,” Saret pointed out.

He added: “It will also expand tremendously the social development program of RTNMC and CBNC which are now creating a better life for the residents of Bataraza and outlying areas.”

Bataraza Vice Mayor Haron Narrazid supported Saret’s position, saying, “Money is our main problem. We can use our environment to make money. If that will be for the benefit of everyone, why would we not allow it?”

However, NGO representative Fr. Armando Limsa disputed their claim and asserted, “I made a personal research and found out that Bataraza is still the poorest municipality in the province even if a mining company is working there.”

The company also owes the provincial government excise taxes dating back to 1995. It has only paid taxes for 2003 and 2004, officials said.

The municipal government said the company is providing medical services and scholarships to 300 students from the Pala’wan indigenous community in the area.

But Marilyn Samparan, a Palaw’an from Bgy. Taratak who is opposing the company’s expansion, said she is not after the benefit that these companies could provide her family. Samparan’s two children are scholars of the RTN foundation.

She said, “Hindi bale nang hindi makapagtapos ang mga anak ko kung kapalit nito ay masisira naman ang bundok (Bulanjao).”

Committee co-chairman Vice Gov. David Ponce De Leon said the benefits that people will get from the company are not the deciding factor on granting the SEP clearance. The council has to conduct a study and look at all sides of the issue before it could decide, he added.

In the next committee hearings scheduled on the last two weeks of August, data from the study would be presented to serve as basis for the decision.

PNNI maintained that there is no need for a further study as the ECAN map clearly shows that the area lies within the core zone.


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