Outraged by a colleague’s killing, residents of Sibuyan and green groups demanded on Friday October 5 the pullout of mining firms and the cancellation of all permits to explore and mine resources on the pristine island of Sibuyan in Romblon province.
As condemnation of Councilor Armin Marin’s killing grew louder, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should intervene and rethink the government’s mining policy.
Marin was shot and killed after a heated confrontation with a guard of a mining consortium during a picket in San Fernando town Wednesday morning. The killing came months after fitful local protests against mining.
“We share the appeal of the ATM for the mining company to withdraw all equipment and their permit especially now that the blood of our colleague had been shed,” Sibuyan resident Rodne Galicha said in a briefing.
Environmentalists have tagged the guard of the Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corp (SNPDC) in the killing, but the firm said its personnel were attacked prior to the killing. The alleged gunman, Mario Kingo, surrendered a day after the killing.
In the briefing, which was interspersed by environmentalists’ tributes to Marin, 42, the ATM demanded the “immediate, absolute and non-negotiable pullout” of mining in operations from the 443-sq-kilometres island.
Home to one of the the densest forests in the world, Sibuyan has been dubbed the “Galapagos island of Asia. With SNPDC and Pelican Resources’ inability to rein in their private thugs, we are afraid that they will not hesitate to use force again in the future,” ATM coordinator Jaybee Garganera said in the briefing. “The only option to prevent further loss and eradicate the climate of fear in Sibuyan is to boot these unwanted elements out of the island.”
“We urge Jose Miguel Cabarrus, president of the SNPDC, Australian companies Pelican Resources and BHP Billiton, Canadian Altai Resources, and all mining operators in Sibuyan to immediately stop all mining activities there,” Haribon executive director Anabelle Plantilla said.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, Marin was shot while leading a picket against a nickel exploration project of the SNPDC in Barangay España in San Fernando town Wednesday morning. It said Marin had a heated confrontation with Kingo and three SNPDC personnel when they arrived aboard a jeep in the area. During the confrontation, the jeep drove off and dragged Marin, then a shot rang out.
Quoting witnesses, WWF said the jeep driver held Armin with his left hand, while he pointed a gun to the councilor’s mouth with his right hand.
SNPDC disputed this and said that Kingo and his three passengers, including the firm’s community relations officer, Lea Ladica, were mobbed by Marin, foreigner Jennie Chan and the picketers, including some who were armed. “Kingo, in order to avoid conflict, immediately backed up and proceeded to turn the vehicle around. Before he could make the full turn, however, Marin allegedly bodily grabbed Kingo, reportedly grappling for Kingo’s service firearm. During the scuffle a shot rang out, and Marin was hit,” the company said in a statement. It said that details of the scuffle remained unclear.
SNPDC also claimed that Marin’s companions chased Ladica after she jumped out of the jeep and sought refuge in a house, and “one of them reportedly bashed her head with a rock.” It said the jeep was riddled with bullets and pushed down the river, and the company’s gate was also shot at, but did not say who shot at them.
The company said its personnel were on their way to their campsite in Barangay Taclobo, and just passed by the residents picketing outside the Filipinas Top Rock Mines in Barangay Fernando. “Now, they’re twisting the facts,” Galicha said, insisting the residents were unarmed during the picket.
SNPDC, which environmentalists said is affiliated with the Australian firms Pelican Resources Ltd and BHP Billiton, was granted by the provincial government small-scale mining permits in Barangays Taclobo and España in San Fernando town. The firm said it had had neither brought any equipment, except for the jeep, nor started its operations on the island. “We are deeply saddened with the demise of a true environmental steward, Armin Marin. Now every ounce of nickel, iron ore, cobalt, chromite, every mineral in Sibuyan island is tainted with the blood of Marin,” said Philip Camara, a member of Haribon Foundation’s board.
The ATM pressed the Philippine Minerals Development Corp and the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to spare Sibuyan from “further exploitation” and cancel all exploration permits pending with the MGB. “One person killed because of the divisions and conflicts that the greed of mining companies bring into communities is enough reason to seriously reflect and ponder on the kind of future that the extractive industries bear for the Philippines,” Garganera said. “GMA must seriously rethink this government’s mining strategy.”
So far, there are three approved small-scale mining operations, and two pending applications for large-scale mining, and one pending application for exploration permit in five areas across the island. Some 13 mining areas on the island had been plotted, according to the Sibuyanons Against Mining Movement. “I dare President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, if you love the Philippines, don’t allow mining in Sibuyan. It’s one of a kind. Do you want this destroyed?” Victoria Segovia of Miriam-PEACE said in the same briefing.
Another Sibuyan resident, Noli Zuela, sought more INGO representation in the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB), the body that issues small-scale mining permits. “The President should change the composition of the PMRB. It’s mostly composed of the local DENR, mining firm, and the INGO. What are our chances of getting our voice heard if we’re up against DENR and mining firm?” he said.
Residents in Sibuyan are planning to step up protest actions in the run-up to Marin’s burial, whose date has yet to be announced, according to Galicha.
WWF and ATM had also claimed that before he moved to the energy department, Secretary Angelo Reyes approved on July 27 SNPDC’s application to cut down 69,707 trees in the island preparatory to its operations.