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Zambales folk continue pressure on DENR to close open-pit mines.

Residents affected by destructive nickel-mining operations in this town vowed to continue their protest actions throughout the Christmas season unless the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issues closure orders to the four mining companies operating here.

Dr. Benito Molino, president of the Concerned Citizens of Santa Cruz, Zambales (CCOS), which organized the anti-mining protesters here, said they will remain at the protest camp they erected in front of the DENR office in Quezon City until they get an assurance the open-pit mines in Zambales will be closed down.

'Kampo Zambales will fight on. We won't break camp without a closure order,' Molino said.

Aside from putting a stop to open-pit mining, the Zambales protesters are also urging the government to cancel with finality the mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) and operations of destructive mining firms; issue a moratorium on new mining permits; investigate environment officials and local government officials in Region 3 who condone destructive mining; rehabilitate the environment, including farms, fishponds and waterways damaged by nickel mining; penalize mining firms with violations; justly compensate affected residents; and pass a new mining law.

CCOS and local groups Samahan ng mga Magsasaka ng Santa Cruz, Zambales North Payao Association, Guinabon Organic Farmers Association, Bangan Malabayo Fisherfolk Association and the Fight for the Next Generation group had joined the protest camp at the DENR two weeks ago.

The camp was originally set up by anti-mining activists from the towns of Manicani and Homonhon in Eastern Samar, who, likewise, demanded the closure of open-pit mines.

Like Manicani Island, Santa Cruz was devastated by nickel mining which stripped the mountains bare, caused flash floods and resulted in siltation that adversely affected both agriculture and aquaculture, the main livelihood of mostly poor residents.

The mining companies operating in Santa Cruz are the Zambales Diversified Minerals Corp., a subsidiary of the DMCI Mining Corp.; Benguetcorp Nickel Mines Inc.; Eramen Minerals Inc.; and LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc.

Unlike Santa Cruz, however, Manicani had gotten the attention of Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who sat with protest leaders from Samar last week.

Last Friday the Manicani protest camp folded up, reportedly after receiving an assurance from Cimatu that there will be no more mining in the island 'because it is a protected area.'

Meanwhile, the Zambales contingent said that while Cimatu has not yet met with them, they will not budge from their principled stand and continue to press the DENR to act on their demands.

'We are happy over Manicani's victory, and we who must stay encamped out here will draw strength from this,' Hernan Malong of CCOS said.

They added that without any assurance from President Duterte that their concerns would be addressed, the Zambales protesters will not break camp.

'Christmas and even New Year may come and go, but we will go on with the fight for as long as we are denied our rights to a healthy and balanced ecology,' Molino said.

As of now, the Zambales camp gets strength and sustenance from friends in Manila and supporters from the province who visit the camp to express unity with the environmental cause.

Last week support also came in the form of a privilege speech from Party-list Rep. Tom S. Villarin of Akbayan, who called for the closure of open-pit mining in the country.

'We have various bills on mining currently pending before the committees, but as we continue to raise questions in those deliberations, we must provide the communities in Zambales and Eastern Samar immediate answers,' Villarin said in his speech.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 18, 2017
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