Residents hail suspension of tree cutting on Sibuyan island
October 16, 2007 23:23:00
TJ Burgonio

MANILA, Philippines -- Residents of Sibuyan, Romblon have cheered Environment Secretary Lito Atienza's order suspending the cutting of trees in mining areas on the island, but said they would be doubly happy if he stopped mining altogether.

"We are thankful for the suspension of the cutting of trees and mining in Sibuyan. However, what we need is the cancellation [of mining permits],'' Sibuyanon Rodne Galicha said.

"Justice for Sibuyanons and Armin [Marin] is the pullout of all mining operations and applications in Sibuyan.''

Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, who raised Sibuyanons' concern over mining during last Thursday's House deliberations on the environment department's budget, commended Atienza for his order.

"I am glad he heeded the clamor for his department to intervene to prevent the escalation of the brewing conflict between Sibuyan residents and mining companies that has claimed one life,'' he said in a text message

The next step, the congressman added, would be for Atienza "to stop all mining operations in the ecologically fragile island as demanded by its residents."

Atienza, however, said he could not cancel the permits issued to at least three small-scale mining firms by the provincial government of Romblon in 1996, but said he expected them to eventually pull out.

"If I step out of bounds, I'll be violating the law. We're respecting the small-scale permits issued to them,'' he said in an interview.

But he added: "I'd expect them to pull out if they can't open wide roads and cut down trees [with the aim of undertaking large-scale mining].''

Atienza on Monday ordered the suspension of tree-cutting permits on Sibuyan island, and imposed a ban on the issuance of similar permits to small-scale miners.

Small-scale miners should not be allowed to cut down trees, he said.

"By enforcing the law, we'll be able to promote responsible mining. So from now on, no tree-cutting permits will be issued to small-scale miners,'' Atienza said in the interview.

In late July, then environment secretary Angelo Reyes granted permits to Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corp. (SNPDC), All Acacia Resources Inc. and San Pacific Resources Philippines Inc. to cut down more than 100,000 trees in San Fernando town. Reyes was later appointed as energy secretary.

The island, home to a dense forest, clean river and the Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park, has come under the spotlight following the killing of environmentalist Councilor Armin Marin.

Marin, 42, was shot and killed by a guard of the SNPDC while leading a picket against mining in San Fernando on October 3.

Copyright 2007