A nickel stockpile on Manicani Island awaits transport in 2016 despite the suspension of mining operations since 2002. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
A Catholic diocese in the central Philippines has called on the government not to allow mining on a small island in the Leyte Gulf.
In a letter to Philippine Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Bishop Crispin Vasquez of Borongan and 70 priests in the diocese appealed for a stop to mining on Manicani Island.
The church leaders said mining "is destroying the ecosystem" and causing "communal feuds and unnecessary tensions" that hurt "the very core of the community."
Father Lenox Garcia, parish priest in Manicani, told ucanews.com that the water supply on the island, mainly from rain, has declined.
The priest blamed the denudation of the forest and the disturbance of waterways for aggravating the situation.
Mining on the island has been suspended since 2002 due to complaints filed by church leaders although the transport of mineral stockpiles continued.
Bishop Vasquez and the priests renewed their call for the "total closure" of the mines, saying the island "has not yet fully recovered from the negative effects of mining."
The diocese said mining on the island "will not motivate the government to prioritize their social services" because the operation has resulted in "unhelpful dependency" on mining.
Yolanda Esguerra, national coordinator of Philippine-Misereor Partnership Incorporated, urged communities and advocates to "remain vigilant and watchful."
"We must continue to engage our new Environment Secretary, who compared to the previous one, has a different stance on environmental protection," said Esguerra.
She said Cimatu, a retired military man, must show that he favors the promotion of environmental protection "over corporate profit."
Esguerra’s group called on the government to declare the small island’s ecosystem, watersheds, ancestral domains, and prime agricultural land "free from any destructive extraction."
On July 12, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned mining companies about damage they cause to the environment.
"All you contribute to the country is about US$1.3 billion in taxes," said the president. "We can live without it…. Take the US$1.3 billion somewhere else, preserve the environment," he added.