Residents of Homonhon Island in the central Philippines decried the continuous operation of a mining company in their village even amid a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Philippines’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau has earlier approved the loading of chromite ore on a China-bound ship that has docked on the island on April 4.
The Panamanian-registered vessel, which is manned by a crew of 13 Chinese and four Burmese, is expected to load 7,000 metric tons of chromite ore.
The Diocese of Borongan, which covers the island, and the provincial government of Eastern Samar have expressed opposition to the presence of the foreign vessel.
Homonhon Island is an island in the province of Eastern Samar on the east side of Leyte Gulf. The 20-kilometer long island is part of the municipality of Guiuan.
“The loading operations are already underway, sadly,” reported Father Christian Ofilan, the island’s lone priest.
“We are very disappointed. The people feel helpless,” the priest told LiCAS.news.
What worries most of the 4,800 residents of the island is the potential health risk posed by the loading of the chromite ore.
“There is an ongoing silent show of opposition or protest ongoing now in the village,” said the priest.
The island of Homonhon has been, for years, a flashpoint in a conflict between residents and mining companies over environmental protection.
Over the years, its biodiversity has been said to be at risk with three mining companies operating on the island, which is believed to be home to some endangered wildlife.
In 2017, island residents submitted a petition to declare their community a critical habitat after a team of experts conducted a watershed assessment.
Father Ofilan said the government decision to allow that transport of ore even during the global health crisis “is unfair and very unfortunate.”
“It feels like we are on our own at this point,” he said, adding that the Philippine government seems to prioritize China.
Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan has expressed strong opposition to the mining operation in a letter to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
“I would like to manifest our collective position that we are opposing any mining operation, including the loading and exporting of mineral ore … during this entire period of community quarantine,” he said.
The bishop said the “collective stand” is based on the “principle of the general welfare, health and safety of our people.”
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, head of the social action arm of the bishops’ conference, also called on the government’s environment department to intervene “in the light of the ongoing threat of mining activities” in Homonhon.
“We trust that you will recognize and value the united voice of the constituents of the islands and their leaders rallying to preserve their homes, environment and their future,” said the prelate.
Homonhon Island has played an important role in the spread of the Catholic faith in the Philippines because it was where the first Spanish missionaries landed when they arrived on March 17, 1521.