There is no such thing as a free lunch, economist Milton Friedman and other finance experts say.
Perhaps Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba should be reminded of this, as he denies the dredging project involves the extraction of black sand at the mouth of the Cagayan River. He says that it is merely a dredging project that a Chinese company is doing “for free to help the province reopen the Port of Aparri.”
Emphatic that the project would “improve economic and trade relations between Cagayan and China, and other neighboring Asian countries,” he vowed to resign “if they can prove that it is black sand mining.”
Black sand mining in itself is legal (if granted the necessary permits) because to date there is no such law that unambiguously bans it. Its main limits in the Mining Act is if the dredging is done in reservoirs and protective areas.
The governor is up against his own provincial board, which is seeking President Duterte’s intervention to stop the project on charges that black sand or magnetite, an ore of iron used in steel production, is being extracted there.
Armed with a resolution inked on August 7, the board members claim that the dredging being carried out by Pacific Offshore Exploration Inc. poses a threat to the environment and livelihood of villagers.
Board member Mila Catabay-Lauigan says, “This is to be investigated…as the company has yet to comply with the requirements.” She says that the dredging vessel is putting the waste or nonmineral sand back into the river, and transporting the dredged materials abroad.
Another board member, Vilmer Viloria, says the dredging project had not been issued an environmental compliance certificate and other permits, which, he notes, makes the contractor’s operation illegal.
According to the board resolution, the contractor earns about $50 million or P2.6 billion a month from the project. It has also been reported that residents near the Cagayan River have spotted several dredging vessels with Chinese markings since July.
Illegal mining of black sand or magnetite has been going on in several towns in Cagayan province despite stiff resistance from local residents and intermittent raids by government authorities.
The previous administration tried to put an end to the illegal practice by carrying out intensive campaigns to completely eradicate it. In August 2013, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau discovered during raids that foreign companies, mostly Chinese, which were holding permits issued by the MGB or the provincial government, were behind the illegal extraction in Cagayan.
The task force arrested 18 Chinese employees of Hua Xia Mining and Trading Corp., which was illegally operating a processing plant for black sand in Paddaya and Dodan villages, both in Aparri town. The company carried a permit to mine for only sand in Casiitan and Batangan villages, both in Gonzaga town.
Since then, illegal black sand mining or extraction has persisted with violent consequence. In April 2014, Carlito Pentecostes Jr., then-mayor of Gonzaga and a supporter of black sand mining, was felled by an assassin shortly after a flag-raising ceremony just across the municipal hall.
What is exactly black sand mining? Black sand is a stabilizer in concrete and steel products and also widely used in jewelry and cosmetics manufacturing. Although in itself legal, “studies made by environmental groups in areas with black sand mining activities show that black sand mining operations contribute greatly to the depletion of fishery resources, erosion of land and severe flooding,” says Sen. Leila de Lima in her Senate Bill 960 that proposed to totally ban black sand mining.
The bill adds: “It is even predicted that areas mined for magnetite or black sand could sink and be underwater within 30 to 70 years as rapid subsidence will highly expose said areas to flooding and seasonal typhoon.” The bill specifically mentioned Cagayan as bearing the brunt of black sand mining.
The MGB under Duterte says it will conduct a thorough review of black sand mining, finishing what the government of Benigno Aquino III started in its crackdown on miners that violate environmental standards.
“We are reviewing it, which mining we will not go for, that will destroy the beaches,” MGB concurrent Director Mario Luis A. Jacinto says.
In 2014, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, a panel directly under the supervision of the Office of the President, in a resolution ordered the appraisal of all existing black sand mining operations in the country, from the issuance of permits to sanctions that may be imposed on companies that violate conditions set by those permits.
“We must make sure that we
are able to fully assess, identify where are the possible sources and whether
these are viable and whether these are marketable,” Jacinto says. Last year,
the first report of the interagency Fact-Finding Committee on Illegal Mining
entitled “Philippine Mining Unearthed” was unveiled, identifying quarrying of
magnetite black ore or black sand as the most common form of illegal mining
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