Monday, September 19, 2022

Jubgan Residents: One Voice Against Mining

By Michael Javier
Columban Lay Missionary in Myanmar


JUBGAN is the name of our small village where I grew up and had my primary education. Maybe for some, this is their first time hearing about this place because it is neither famous nor popular. It is the last village of the Municipality of San Francisco, Surigao del Norte, in North Eastern Mindanao. It is located at the foot of the mountain along the coast, between two rivers where the residents get their water for daily use. More than 500 families live here and most of their livelihood is either fishing or farming. I could still vividly remember how simple our life was. We could get food from the harvest and the abundance of God's gift of creation.  But an unfortunate event happened. 

In March 2014, there was a tarpaulin posted on the national highway of Jubgan which said "Farm to Market Road," but there were no other details aside from the fact that it was a government project. They started making a road from the national highway up to the mountain. The residents and the landowners were surprised because they were not informed of the project and the local officials didn't say anything. The Surigao Mining (SURIMIN) was the contractor of the said project. They worked very fast that they completed the roadway in just a few days. They cut many trees, dug the soil, and started collecting minerals. From that day on, every time it rains, the water in the river became muddy brown, affecting our bluish seawater. The people began to complain. The sad reality though was that they were divided into two groups: one was pro-mining, those who worked and received a salary from the activity, in short, those who wanted easy money; and the other was anti-mining, those who don't like to have mining in our place because their livelihoods were badly affected. Most of this anti-mining group were fishermen. 

Since some of the villagers have foreseen the drastic effects of the mining activity, the young men and women used social media to catch the attention of the local government, while some were gathering ideas on how to stop it.  They called for a meeting exactly at the time when I was there, so I joined them. Someone advised us to go to the nearest Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to check if the said activity has legal papers. We organized a signature campaign so we can forward our complaints against the people behind the mining activity. When we forwarded it to the DENR and the MGB in Surigao City Branch, they were amazed at the number of signatories. There were almost one hundred complainants with a very concrete reason to stop the activity – the pollution that turned the water into a muddy brown. The officer-in-charge inspected the area where the mining activity happened, and they found out that the mining operators were really in violation of the required papers for legal operation. After a week of the submission of our complaints, we received a message from the office inviting us to attend the hearing together with our local officials. This will be attended as well by the financier of the mining company.  We encouraged everyone who signed the petition to attend the hearing, but most of them could not join because of the cost of transportation. Their money was just enough to buy food for their family. To resolve it, we took the initiative to rent a van so we can bring those people to the hearing. During the hearing at the office of the Mines Bureau, we learned that the activity did not have any legal documents to operate because they only applied for a permit for small-scale mining. What they did was more than small-scale mining, and they operated even if the application was not approved yet! So, they were ordered to stop the operation at once.  We partly blamed the barangay officials for this unfortunate event because they allowed those people to operate without thinking of its consequences. It was a victory for us that we were able to stop their "farm to mining road" activity. 

Jubgan residents attend hearing 

Since then, nature started to heal. The water in the river and sea is clear once again. The farm to mining road was filled with bushes and the people started living normally as they did before. But not for long! 

Last September 2021, with our new barangay captain, the mining operator came back under the new name “Gotinga.” Ramon Gotinga is allegedly one of the owners of Gosun Siargao Waves Corp, and he represented the company. With the permission of some of the local officials, they operated again. This time, they planned to build a seaport for faster and easier transport of the minerals that they could get. Another tarpaulin was posted stating that they already have a permit from the DENR. So, they worked double time and even did some quarrying in the rivers. This time, the people in my hometown were faced with the same problem, which became worse because the operator and the people behind the mining activity were more aggressive. The residents couldn't go up to the site to check what Gotinga was doing because armed soldiers were guarding the area. Again, many concerned citizens were alarmed. The people asked for a meeting with our barangay officials but the latter deceived the residents.  As usual, they said that this mining was good for the people in our barangay but the truth was it was only good for those who were involved in the mining but not for the whole barangay, and eventually not good for nature. Again, the people took the initiative to file a complaint against the barangay captain, some local officials, and the operator. The same way as we did before, only this time we called the attention of the Municipal Mayor and the neighbouring barangay to help us in solving our problem. Our Mayor secretly made his move to respond to our cry. He called for a press briefing with the local media, DENR, MGB, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Gotinga (mine operator), and the Local officials. The residents were not even informed about that press briefing. However, when I got some information about it, I notified them right away and told them to invite and gather as many residents  as possible.  The problem again was their fare. Some of our friends overseas who are also against this mining activity contributed some money for the fare and the snacks for the people. 

During the briefing, it was exposed that the documents Gotinga presented were a fraud. All the agencies who were invited were telling them to stop the activity. The operator said that the people in Jubgan already approved the activity as the barangay captain told them. The people who were there reacted to what they were saying and courageously said: "Wala mi mouyon anang mina mina diha, nabuhi mi bisan walay mina!" (We did not agree to that mining. We survived even without mining). So, they were forced to stop and leave the place immediately. 

We believe that these mining companies will never stop destroying our place for their greedy interest. Still, we believe that when people are united to defend the sanctity of our natural resources, there is hope that these greedy companies will not succeed. No matter how wealthy they are, still, the united voice of the people will be heard. And we hope and pray that this voice will be respected. 

As this new dawn of hope begins to emerge, we are happy to know that our new governor has cancelled all the permits involving the destruction of nature, even those of the mining firms that had been operating for a long time.

GoSun Siargao Waves Corp. extracting tons of debris along Jubgan River in Barangay Jubgan to build a wharf and road for its mining operations in the area. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2021 by ROEL N. CATOTO/MindaNews

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