MATI CITY, Davao Oriental – Waves lap up the shallow shores of Sitio Wagon in Barangay (village) Macambol as fishermen and their families work and live off the bountiful waters of Pujada Bay.
The noise of the waves mixes with that of an electric plainer being used to shape the belly of a new banca – a simple fishing boat — under the shade of some coconut trees. A much bigger boat which can carry more than a ton of fish approaches the shore after having spent days, possibly even weeks at sea.
Many boats are still out and six more colorfully painted bancas lie on the sand, their fishing nets and traps left to bleach and dry out under the sun.
A sand spit away from the boat shop, Martina Baldapan is sun-drying a basket of different fish just outside her kitchen. They were caught by her son and prepared simply by being dipped in salt and water. Martina leaves them for a day before taking most of the basket to sell for PhP 80 (USD 1) a kilo. The rest she keeps for her family to eat.
Martina is just one of an estimated 3,000 people in the coastal village of Macambol who rely on Pujada Bay for a living.
Other villagers work the lands round Mt. Hamiguitan which, like the Bay has been declared a protected area.
Both though now face the threat of large-scale mining operation dubbed as the Pujada Nickel Project.
The project is funded by BHP Billiton (BHP), self-styled as the “world’s leading natural resources company” through a joint venture with local partner Asiaticus Management Corporation (Amcor).
Pujada is said to have a reserve of about 200 million metric tons of nickel and according to Reuters, BHP has committed to invest up to USD 2 billion which is expected to provide about 3,000 jobs to on its full operation by 2013.
The joint venture however has currently run into difficulties due to a legal dispute between BHP and its local partners as reported by BHP management at its own annual general meeting held on October 23. For now, the project seems to be on hold.
This is good news for many – but not so good news for others who believe the mining may bring jobs and development.
The project site was originally due to cover the two towns and a city of the peninsula of Davao Oriental – Governor Generoso, San Isidro and Mati City. But due to opposition from the authorities in Governor Generoso and San Isidro in 2003, the mining claim has been reduced to Mati only.
Seven Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) have been issued covering at least 11,000 hectares. Mining permits overlapped the declared Mt. Hamiguitan protected area.
Mining in protected areas?
On July 1994, the government declared the Pujada Bay as protected seascape by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 431. Mt. Hamiguitan was declared a protected area in July 2004.
But on June 8, 2004, just a month before Mt. Hamiguitan was declared protected, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued MPSA to a series of local mining companies.
In 2004 the Supreme Court controversially allowed foreign companies to own 100 per cent of local mining projects and the Philippine Government hopes to attract upwards of USD 10 billion worth of mining investment over the next few years
These seven mining areas, which cover at least 17, 000 hectares, overlap the protected area, which has five major drainage and watershed systems because of the mountain. The major streams either drain towards the Pujada Bay or the Davao Gulf. The bodies of freshwater are the main source of water supply for communities living in the vicinity.
Pujada Bay is home to the endangered sea cows (dugong) and sea turtles while the Mt. Hamiguitan range is known both for its pygmy forest and also as a home of the endangered Philippine Eagle which is itself a protected species.
The 6,800-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to the Mandaya Lumads or indigenous peoples.
Mining divides villagers
Virgie Mabato, chair of the local anti-mining group Macambol Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Integral Development (MMSAID), said that the arrival of the mining groups began to polarize people with some favoring the companies in the hope these would bring development and opportunities to the community.
Mabato added that even relationships between families have been affected by divisions in views as to whether the arrival and the companies will turn out to be a blessing or a curse.
But she explained: “We reiterate our position against the mining operation because it will destroy our source of living and source of our food. It’s not just Mt. Hamiguitan but Pujada Bay which will be polluted once the mine opens.”
Like Baldapan, Mabato also depends on the marine resources in Pujada Bay. Mabato’s family runs a small fish pen in Sitio Supsopon in Macambol.
From the shoreline, the proposed mining site is at least four kilometers away – though it shares the same water basin. During heavy rains, some portions of the bay become murky due to siltation carried down from the hinterland.
Roger Billote, also a member of MMSAID, said that even if the mining company is already outside the protected area, it is still not an assurance that mining operation will not destroy the biodiversity in the area.
“Like the spider web, once one of its strands will be cut, the spider will be outbalanced. Even if there is a buffer zone, it will still affect the entire biodiversity,” he said.
Billote pointed out that for him and many others “biodiversity is not just the protected land itself but as everything around the mountain.”
Yet two tribal councils in Magum and Cabuaya, also part of Macambol, are apparently in favor of the mining operations.
In a joint resolution, the tribal councils have expressed their support for BHP Billiton to continue mining operations in Macambol and Cabuaya areas.
Other indigenous tribal councils have come out against of the mining operation and argue the government in Manila should push for other means of helping the people in Macambol.
Narciso “Datu Silang” Salang, member of the Macambol-Mamali United Mandaya tribal council, says the government and the mining companies should respect the position of the people. “The rift between these two mining companies divided the people especially the indigenous peoples,” Salang pointed out, adding that both the government and the mining company should consider those who depend in Mt. Hamiguitan and Pujada Bay.
The mining operations, he said, will only destroy the beauty of Pujada Bay and Mt. Hamiguitan, adding that both are potential eco-tourism spots in the province.
Meanwhile, only the government officials of this city are apparently in favor of the Pujada Nickel Project believing the mining could bring development in the region.
The province reportedly has rich deposits of gold, nickel, copper, chromite, and manganese.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR disclosed that Davao Oriental has 37,000 of the 87,000 registered sites of mining interest in the country. Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project
(The author is a development worker and journalist based in Davao City. He is also co-founder of AKP Images, an independent photo agency in the Philippines.)