Karapatan scores violent police dispersal of anti-mining barricade, lauds people’s protest

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the violent dispersal by the Philippine National Police (PNP) last February 3, 2023 of a barricade set up by residents of Sibuyan Island in Romblon against the operations of Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC).

Residents led by Sibuyanons Against Mining have been manning their barricade since January 26 to stop APMC’s mining trucks containing nickel ore from entering a private port in Barangay España, San Fernando town in Sibuyan island. Violence erupted when the trucks escorted by the police rammed through the barricade, injuring two of the protesters.

“Sibuyanons have been resisting the entry and operations of mining companies in their resource-rich island for close to two decades,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. “Residents fear that the destruction caused by mining will wreak havoc on their island which is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world,” she said, “and undermine their livelihoods which depend on the preservation of the island’s biodiversity.”

“Mining companies have long wanted to exploit the island’s rich nickel, chromite, cobalt and iron deposits, but the residents in solidarity with local government units, church groups and environmental activists have staunchly resisted the mining companies, to the extent that one of their local leaders, Armin Marin, was shot dead by a mining firm security officer during a protest rally in San Fernando town in October 2007.” Marin’s killer, said Palabay, got off with a slap on the wrist when he was sentenced to a mere three years in prison for negligence and imprudence but was cleared of murder charges.

“On July 28 of last year,” said Palabay, “the towns of San Fernando, Cajidiocan and Magdiwang in Sibuyan petitioned newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Congress to declare Sibuyan mining-free. They likewise called on newly appointed DENR Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to ‘immediately review, halt, revoke, and reject all mining agreements, operations, and applications within the territorial jurisdiction.’”

“However, the Marcos II regime responded by issuing a mineral ore export permit to APMC on December 29, 2022, allowing the company to bulk test 50,000 metric tons of ore,” said Palabay. “This, despite a string of violations committed by APMC.”

“Such brazen disregard for the will of the Subayanons comes as no surprise,” said Palabay, “since APMC’s mining permit seems Marcos’ political payback to the Gatchalians, who own the company,” she said. During the election, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian fully supported Marcos’ candidacy. Earlier this week, Marcos named Rex Gatchalian as the new DSWD secretary.

“Nonetheless,” said Palabay, “the incident has raised public awareness about the evils of big corporate mining in the island and compelled the APMC to back off temporarily from its operations in Sibuyan, pending the resolution of the issues raised by the residents.”

“We hail the vigilance and courage of the Subayanons in protecting their rights, and hope that their laudable struggle will inspire residents in other areas being ravaged by destructive mining to rise up against plunderous mining interests,” concluded Palabay.