The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands. Maybe you are familiar with some of them, such as Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, and Palawan, which are all famous tourism destinations. But you probably have not heard of Marinduque, Rapu-Rapu, Manicani, Homonhon – four small islands that have been ravaged by mining in recent years.
The Philippines is a mineral-rich country, and the government has actively promoted mining to boost the local economy. As of 2014, the government has granted 999 mining permits across the country. But environmentalists are worried about the destructive impact of large-scale mining on the ecosystem, while some activists are critical of the foreign domination and corruption in the mining sector.
The stories of Marinduque, Rapu-Rapu, Manicani, and Homonhon highlight some of the social issues linked to the mining industry.
When mining operations started in Rapu-Rapu Island ten years ago, it was hailed by the government and the mining industry as an example of “responsible mining”. But after one year, cyanide poisoning around the mining site caused a massive fish kill that destroyed the livelihood of fisherfolk. Rapu-Rapu is a small island municipality in Bicol region, located in the eastern part of the Philippines.
Antonio Casitas, a senior peasant leader and environmental activist, was interviewed by alternative news website Bulatlat about the impact of the operations conducted by Australian mining firm Lafayette on the island:
Rapu-Rapu Island was once so beautiful. It was like paradise. Our lives there were simple — we lived off nature, and we took care not to damage it because we knew it was the source of our livelihood and means of survival. When the mining companies came, everything changed. Now, 97 percent of Rapu-Rapu Island is virtually under the control of these environmental destroyers, and what was once paradise is a wasteland.
The island province of Marinduque, located in the central part of the Philippine archipelago, continues to suffer from a toxic mine spill in 1996, caused by the collapse of a tailings dam operated by Marcopper mining. (See video above) The Marcopper tragedy was at that time the country’s worst mining disaster. Joseph Israel Laban, a filmmaker and native of the island, wrote on Facebook that the mining company has failed to rehabilitate the communities affected by the disaster:
After 18 years and four Presidents, the river is yet to be cleaned and rehabilitated by Canadian mining firm Placer Dome/Barrick Gold. For me, this is personal. I grew up about 10 minutes away from the Boac River. Every time I pass by that waterway when I visit Marinduque, I am reminded that there really is no justice in the Philippines. Not for the poor people. But for us Marinduqueños, we will never forget.
The biggest disaster in Eastern Visayas was the destructive impact of typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) in 2013. But there were also other environment disasters in the region caused by mining activities. In the small island of Manicani, the people have been opposing the return of a mining company whose operations have severely damaged the natural resources of the island. Leading the opposition is the Diocese of Borongan of the Catholic Church, which released a statement asserting that “it cannot remain deaf and blind to the excesses of mining while our people suffer the consequences of actions not of their own making.”
Another island in Eastern Visayas that struggles to recover from the dirty legacy of mining is Homonhon. Mining operations in the island started in 1983 and have left a trail of environment damage that stirred the residents to fiercely oppose the expansion of mining in the island. The Bulatlat news team witnessed this scenery on the island:
The team was greeted by glorious beaches, but as the journalists went near the mountains, they saw telltale signs of fires, streams without water, the loose soil only a few meters away from the nearly 10 deep pits in every mining site.
A local leader told Bulatlat that the residents “will continue our resistance and if we need to establish barricades in order to halt their operations, we will do it.”
The environmental pollution and loss of livelihoods in Marinduque, Rapu-Rapu, Manicani, and Homonhon should make local leaders in other small island ecosystems think twice before they welcome the entry of large-scale mining into their homes.