Threatening Lives, the Environment and the People’s Future
Lodged between two protected areas – the Pujada Bay Protected Seascape and Mt. Hamiguitan Range, a proclaimed wildlife sanctuary – Macambol is not the most logical site for a large-scale nickel laterite mining project. However, with the Philippine government aggressively promoting mining this area is under threat, along with the protected areas themselves. Meanwhile, the residents are facing serious environmental threats, specifically the destruction of these adjacent protected areas and consequently the sources for their sustenance and livelihoods.
The barangay (village) of Macambol has a population of at least 3,454 people and 667 households. These people have been living with uncertainties ever since the Philippine government declared the Pujada (Hallmark) nickel laterite project as one of its top priority mining projects under its 2004 Mineral Action Plan. They live with the constant fear of displacement, loss of livelihoods and environmental degradation.
Two local companies, Hallmark and Austral-Asia, hold permits to conduct exploration activities at the Hallmark project. Hallmark and Austral-Asia are corporations formed under a Shareholders Agreement between Asiaticus Management Corporation (AMCOR) and QNI Philippines, Inc (a BHP Billiton subsidiary). BHPB and AMCOR have been in dispute over how to implement the project, which has ended up in both the Philippine courts and international arbitration. The news that BHPB and AMCOR may be patching up their legal differences makes the community in Macambol even more worried about the future.
Some 4,778 hectares of mining permits overlap with five major drainage systems and watersheds, which either drain towards Pujada Bay or the Davao Gulf. These bodies of freshwater are the main water supply for the communities living within and around the area, and the bays host endangered species such as dugongs (sea cows), sea turtles and stingrays.
These permits overlap with the Mt. Hamiguitan Range, a protected area under Mt. Hamiguitan Range and Wildlife Sanctuary Act (Republic Act No. 9303 – July 28, 2004). It is home to more or less a hundred hectares of “pygmy forests,” exotic plants and wild animals. Rattan, timber and non-timber products, which are the sources of community livelihood, are also found here.
The community, led by the Macambol Multisectoral Alliance for Integral Development (MMSAID), opposes the mining project. They educate and organize to avoid the environmental and social damage caused by mining in the region. Yet BHP Billiton has not properly taken their opposition into account. The company has dismissed calls for a new Free, Prior and Informed Consent process.
“I feel that we have to go on with our work to inform more people to protect Mt Hamiguitan watershed and the Pujada Bay because they are the source of our water, food and air and the only forest we have now,” reflected MMSAID officer Lita Cutanda following a climate change information sharing workshop.
Within the community, there are also serious concerns regarding the large-scale strip-mining extraction of nickel and the high levels (and unpredictable nature) of rainfall in the Philippines. These weather patterns are expected to only get more intense alongside predicted climate change. Additionally, the Pujada region is situated on the “Pacific–Cordillera” fault line. Two branches of the active Philippine fault flank the watershed on the southwest and southeast of the project area, which has been subject to intense seismic activities. The 2008 report “Philippines: Mining or Food”, recommended that no mining should take place on Mount Hamiguitan or near Pujada Bay which are centres of biodiversity, with high ecotourism potential. Under these conditions it may be almost impossible to mine the area.
Being a protected area, by law, Mt. Hamiguitan Range is closed to mining. However, with the National Minerals Policy, the government is revising its laws in favour of mining. As of now, portions of the contract area – covered by the Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, and within the municipalities of Governor Generoso and San Isidro – have been temporarily excluded in the actual operations of the mine. However, these temporarily excluded areas can be re-included in the contract area without any further agreement or amendment to the MPSA.
Aside from the failure to consider the existence of the Pujada Seascape and the fault lines, the mining agreements deny the presence of rich biodiversity in the area. The contract says, “There are also no rare or unusual wildlife species, which can be affected by the project” or that “no rare or unusual plant species, which can be affected by the exploration activities. However, the general vegetative cover will unavoidably be affected due to the removal of topsoil and overburden to reach the mineral deposits. The vegetative cover shall be restored during the implementation of the rehabilitation works.”
The community, led by the MMSAID, is fighting to protect the resources of both Pujada Bay and the Mt. Hamiguitan Range. The defence of these two protected areas, which form part of their natural life support systems, is the community’s primary and immediate concern. The large-scale nickel laterite mining project is perceived as a threat to their livelihoods, that will give little to the community in return.
However, propaganda and community projects of BHP and AMCOR are causing increasing conflict within the community, even to the point of families splitting apart. The community, which has already successfully defended their lands and protected areas against large-scale logging, now stands wracked with increasing social tensions.