Updated: August 18, 2016 10:17 AM GMT
A man stands on one of the sites of a nickel ore mine on Manicani Island in the central Philippines. (Photo courtesy of A. Tan Singco)
Residents of a small island in the central Philippines were celebrating a victory on Aug. 18 after the government ordered a mining company to stop removing nickel ore stockpiles from their village.
The removal of the ore was ruining local ecosystems, the residents said.
"We thought we'd see our island waste away first," said Rebecca Destajo, a village leader on Manicani Island off the coast of Guiuan town in Eastern Samar province.
Opposition to mining operations on the island had been ongoing since the Hinatuan Mining Corporation, an affiliate of Nickel Asia Corp., acquired rights to mine in the village in 1987.
The firm stopped operations in 1994 due to falling nickel prices, but resumed in 2001.
Operations were again suspended in 2002 following local opposition supported by the Catholic diocese of Borongan.
In 2005, the company was granted a permit to remove its stockpiles but residents protested, resulting in clashes with police.
Last month, a government audit found the mining company was taking too much soil and "disturbing the local ecology."
"They are taking soil out and it goes to China. We are suspending the retrieval of stockpiles, to address the ecological balance," Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez said Aug. 17.
More to be done
The social justice group Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) welcomed the government decision, saying "it has been a long time coming."
"We acknowledge this unity among government agencies and peoples' organizations to protect the small islands," PMPI coordinator Yolanda Esguerra said.
She said the next step should be to revoke the permit of the mining company.
"It is now time that the government seek accountability from this mining company and ensure that it rehabilitates the islands," said Father Odick Calumpiano, social action director of Borongan Diocese.
The priest said the community is looking forward to the restoration of the ecosystem.
Island residents, mostly fishermen and farmers, said they look forward to improvement in their lives without the mine.
"Many farmers were lured from their fields and went for the easy money in mining," said farmer Manuel Gagap.
"There might be nothing left for our children if they continue with it. We might end up leaving the island," he said.
Mining company officials said the government move was "unfair and baseless."
"[The audit] did not follow the right procedures. They have not given us any opportunity to talk. We want to express our side," said Francis Malones, company spokesman.
The company has already filed an appeal with the Department of Environment to lift the suspension.
The Hinatuan Mining Corporation has a total of 1.4 million metric tons of ore stockpiled and only 265,000 has been exported.
The company claimed Manicani still has a mine life of 13 years and only 15 hectares of a total of 1,165-hectares have been mined.
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