Tree-cutting permit on Sibuyan slammed

October 09, 2007 23:22:00
TJ Burgonio Jerome Aning

MANILA, Philippines -- The Haribon environmental group has questioned the environment department’s issuing a permit allowing the cutting of trees in Sibuyan island, which it said threatens endemic species found there, in preparation for mining operations.

Haribon executive director Anabelle Plantilla said threatened tree species were among the tens of thousands that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has allowed three companies to cut down in San Fernando town.

She said she had seen the tree-cutting permits and these covered yakal and apitong species, which are included in the national list of threatened Philippine plant species.

The DENR confirmed having issued a permit to the Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corp. (SNPDC) to cut down more than 19,000 trees, including saplings, poles and mature trees, in the village of España.

It also granted permits to All Acacia Resources and San Pacific Resources Phil. to cut down more than 57,000 trees and more than 38,000 trees in the village of Taclobo, also in San Fernando.

Local anti-mining groups said that mining activity on the island has grown so much that there are 13 active mining sites surrounding the mountain and the national park.

The island has come under the spotlight after an environmentalist, town councilor Armin Marin, was killed by a SNPDC guard while leading a protest against mining in San Fernando last Wednesday.

Sibuyanons, anti-mining advocates and green groups called for the pullout of mining firms in the island, but the DENR rejected this, saying the decision to recall their permits lay with the Romblon provincial government.

Plantilla said the tree-cutting permits were proof that the DENR prioritized the utilization, rather than the protection of the country’s resources.

Environment Undersecretary Manuel Gerochi said that if the Romblon provincial government opts to recall the permits, the DENR would also do so.

As of now, there’s nothing to stop the SNPDC from cutting down trees and mining ore in some forest lands in España and Taclobo villages, which the DENR maintains are outside the Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park.

The DENR said it would closely monitor the cutting of trees specified in the permit, and the restoration of the site to its original state as spelled out in its environmental compliance certificate.

Marin’s body is to be carried in a procession around the island Thursday, a day before the burial, according to Rodne Galicha, a Sibuyanon and member of the Sibuyanons Against Mining Movement (SAM).

“SAM is inviting everyone, all environmentalists, all who love Sibuyan, to converge in the island,’’ he said.

Romblon Governor Natalio Beltran III meanwhile has urged Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to put a stop to the cutting of “75,000 trees” in Sibuyan.

“Based on my personal observation and study, nickel ore give off some kind of heat and this hinders plant growth. So the mining sites are supposed to be treeless and there’s no need for the cutting of any tree,” he said in a phone interview.

Beltran said the provincial government was bound by the agreement entered into with the SNPDC by his predecessor.

“At this point, we can only act as regulator, to see to it that all environment laws are complied with by the company. Because if they don’t, I’ll order the mining stopped,” he said.

Claims that the mining contracts were railroaded and that communities were not consulted about the project are now hard to prove, he said.

The governor said that he was personally opposed to mining, especially gold mining, because of the destruction of the environment that mining entails.

Beltran noted that the SNPDC has not yet started any mining operations and that the company does not yet even have any equipment on the island.

Copyright 2007