THE Diocese of Borongan and the communities of Samar Island provinces in the Eastern Visayas region have launched a “Jericho prayer assembly” amid the ongoing mining activities in the area.
Bishop Crispin Varquez, along with religious leaders from the Diocese of Calbayog, and the Diocese of Catarman, reiterated his strong objection against mining companies in the Islands of Homonhon, Manicani, and elsewhere in the island provinces.
“A healthy environment is of a higher value than any amount of gain or money that is only temporary,” the bishop said in his homily during the assembly on January 20, 2024, at the Immaculate Concepcion Church in Guiuan town, Eastern Samar.
The ongoing mining activities in Samar Island, particularly in Homonhon, have been one of the central points among the socio-environmental issues tackled by the local diocese.
In support of the mounting opposition toward mining in Samar Island, Caritas Philippines, the development and advocacy arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), also released a statement, condemning the “practices that prioritize profit over the well-being of individuals and ecosystems.”
“We raise our voices in prayer, imploring the government to listen to the cries for climate justice. The call for responsible resource management and the protection of vulnerable communities must be heard and acted upon,” said Caritas Philippines Vice President Bishop Gerardo Alminaza in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
Fr. Antonio Labiao Jr., Caritas Philippines executive director, added that “the fragile ecosystems of our islands cannot withstand the onslaught of unsustainable mining practices.”
"We implore the world to stand with us in demanding an end to mining in our archipelago," the priest said.
In a separate statement, Aivan Herzano, project officer of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), highlighted the “importance of action to protect the environment given the continuing biodiversity loss and climate crisis.”
Opportunities from mining
A government agency said the mining operations coming from two companies in Homonhon Island brought P182.6 million in excise tax in 2023 alone.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Eastern Visayas Director Glenn Marcelo Noble earlier said that “mining has been very controversial to some, but in the case of Homonhon, there have been no grave violations.”
“What you see on social media are photographs of siltation ponds that collect water for settling sediments before it drains to the ocean,” Noble said in a report from the state-owned Philippine News Agency.
According to the report, at least two mining firms were allowed to mine chromite within the 300-hectare area in Homonhon under the 25-year mineral production sharing agreement approved in 2009.
Aside from chromite, the Island of Homonhon is also rich in nickel.
“Well, there are some issues in life where all of us have firm beliefs which cannot be shaken. And I suppose for the Bishop it’s mining,” Jose Bayani Baylon, vice president of Corporate Communications of Nickel Asia Corporation, told Sunstar Philippines.
“And while the MGB and the industry have to do a better job explaining why mining is a necessary part of life…, there are people who are already set with their opinions and it cannot be changed no matter what you say,” said Baylon, when asked about his reaction to the anti-mining stance of the local diocese.
He also emphasized that the Church has to read the book titled “Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio,” where the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires now Pope Francis said: “On God’s judgment day, we will count ourselves among those who ignored the gifts we were given and who did not use them productively, not only in terms of agriculture and raising cattle but in mining as well.”
“The Pope was being interviewed about Argentina but what he said is so applicable to us,” he said.
According to Baylon, his company has no current mining operations in Manicani Island because their permits are not still complete.
Nickel mineral is used to create different products, such as mobile phones, batteries, jet propellers, turbines, cars, cutlery, and coins, among others. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)