Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the violent police dispersal on February 3 of a barricade set up by residents of Sibuyan Island in Romblon province in the Philippines against the operations of a mining company in the area.
“Such brazen disregard for the will of the Sibuyanons comes as no surprise,” said Cristina Palabay of Karapatan, adding that “the incident has raised public awareness about the evils of big corporate mining.”
“We hail the vigilance and courage of the Sibuyanons in protecting their rights, and hope that their laudable struggle will inspire residents in other areas being ravaged by destructive mining to rise up against plunderous mining interests,” added Palabay.
Residents led by the Sibuyanons Against Mining have been manning their barricade since January 26 to stop mining trucks containing nickel ore from entering a private port in Barangay España, San Fernando town in Sibuyan island.
Violence erupted when the trucks escorted by the police rammed through the barricade, injuring two of the protesters.
Palabay said the residents fear that destruction caused by mining “will wreak havoc on their island, which is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.”
She said that mining companies have long wanted to exploit the island’s rich nickel, chromite, cobalt and iron deposits, “but the residents in solidarity with local government units, church groups and environmental activists have staunchly resisted the mining companies.”
The group Alyansa Tigil Mina, meanwhile, lauded the residents of the island for their “steadfast resolve” against the operations of Altai Philippines Mining Company (APMC).
“We congratulate the environmental defenders in Sibuyan who have held their ground in the barricades despite the violent actions of the APMC and the police,” said Garganera in a statement.
The Romblon Diocesan Council of the Laity has earlier issued a statement deploring the continuous attempts of the mining company to operate on the island.
The lay organization also criticized the government for “turning a deaf ear” and for allowing the company “to reach our soil” despite strong public opposition.
“Together with all the people of good will in the diocese who cry out against mining, we cry with one voice, stop mining in Sibuyan,” read the group’s statement.
“As an expression of solidarity, we appeal to all the faithful to storm the heavens with our prayers, and provide every possible support to the people of Sibuyan who struggle for justice,” added the lay organization.
A coalition of environmentalist groups earlier called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources questioned why a permit had been reportedly granted to the mining company, which is still in the exploration stage of its operations.
Under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, mineral ore export permits are only granted for the export of small amounts of minerals during the exploration stage for testing.
However, Altai Mining was reportedly permitted to ship 50,000 metric tons of nickel ore from Sibuyan, “an alarming amount of ore” according to the group.
The Sangguniang Bayan of San Fernando, Cajidiocan and Magdiwang in Romblon have issued a joint resolution in June 2022 “strongly opposing metallic large-scale mining in Sibuyan Island.”
They requested President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Philippine Congress to declare Sibuyan island free from large-scale metallic mining.
They also called on Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to immediately “review, halt, revoke and reject all mining agreements, operation, and applications within the territorial jurisdiction.”
Sibuyan Island has been said to be one of the most unspoiled ecosystems in the Philippines and the world.