Last week the Guardian published the details of a proposed strip mining operation, which is planned for the highlands of Mindoro Island, where several Mangyan societies, including the Buid, subsist. The paper indicates that a vast strip mine will clear vegetation and top soil from 37.5 square miles and force the relocation of at least 5,000 indigenous people from their homes and farms. The object is the wealth from nickel and cobalt in the rock strata.
A spokesperson for the Mangyan peoples, Ramil Baldo, traveled from the Philippines to London to present the pleas of the highland Mindoro peoples to the British Parliament. He told the Guardian that “we don’t ever want to leave this area, especially the burial sites of our forefathers … This land is our ancestral domain where our grandparents and parents lived and died … This land’s our only livelihood.”
The difficulty for the Mangyan peoples is that their land is also rich in ore that might help the Philippines overcome its poverty. Or at least that is the hope of the national government, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, all of which supported the relaxation of regulations regarding mining, in order to pique the interests of multinational mining companies.
The proposed mining project is being promoted by Crew Minerals ASA, a subsidiary of Crew Gold Corporation. Developing the Mindoro Nickel Project is the major activity of Crew Minerals. The website of Crew Minerals describes the metallurgical testing of the rock, the amounts of nickel and cobalt that can be recovered from the ore, and the mining processes needed. The mining operation will remove the “overburden” (the company’s term for the soil) to expose the ore, which then will be trucked to a processing plant. The mined out area “will be re-established with topsoil and replanted immediately after mining.”
The website tries to reassure readers that a qualified team of scientists is reviewing the potential environmental consequences of the project. A detailed environmental impact assessment should be available in 2008.
Meanwhile, the company is attempting to win the hearts and minds of the local residents through a variety of strategies. The company is meeting with the community (barangay) councils in the affected area, developing fresh water and sanitary services for local residents, giving skills and educational training, and supporting local schools. It also has opened a small medical clinic in Villa Cervesa, which has a full time nurse and a visiting doctor three times per week.
While the people of Villa Cervesa have given their grudging consent to the project, some of the residents in that community are still skeptical, according to the Guardian. “The mining company’s just trying to buy us off. I’m afraid the chemicals will flow into the rivers. Those living near mines in the Philippines see only negative effects,” said one opponent of the project in that village.
The company claims that the project will create 2,000 mining jobs with 20,000 more created by supporting industries. But their claims are contradicted by Mahal, a Mindoro social development group which argues the jobs will be taken by people with mining expertise, from outside the island. “Mindoro will bear the full brunt of the costs and see none of the benefits,” the president of the group said. Another Mindoro group, the Alyansa Laban sa Mina (ALAMIN), is also dedicated to the anti-mining struggle.
The proposed location of the mining is to the north of the traditional Buid territory, but the devastation it will bring to the other Mangyan communities that will be affected could well spill over into the Buid villages as well. And strip mines tend to metastasize, depending of course on what is beneath the “overburden.”