AN ENVIRONMENTAL advocacy group has called on local authorities to move towards the full closure of an open-pit mining project in Davao Oriental that is near the two protected areas of Mt. Hamiguitan and Pujada Bay.

“What alarms us is that the Pujada Nickel Open-Pit Mining Project straddles between and within close proximity of Mount Hamiguitan Wildlife Range, a UNESCO Heritage Site and protected by Republic Act 9303 and Pujada Bay Protected Seascape and Landscape,” Davao City-based Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability, (IDIS) Inc. said.

The group issued the statement last week after the city government of Mati, Davao Oriental’s capital and host of the project, allayed public concern triggered by photos posted on social media about the mining site’s location.

“The mining site of the Austral-Asia link Mining Corporation and Hallmark Mining Corporation comprising a total area of 17,215.49 hectares is outside the protected areas… the mining area is four kilometers away from the boundary of the Pujada Bay Seascape…  It is also outside the Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary,” the Mati City government said.

IDIS, however, asserted that “regardless of the claim that it is outside the protected area delineation, we strongly uphold and fight for the ecological rights and integrities of these watersheds from ridge to reef.”

Portions of these protected areas are within a proximity radius of only eight kilometers from the open-pit mining site, it said. “The environmental impacts of open-pit mining affect water quality, air, hydro-geology, biodiversity, resources, and communities in a wider and regional scope and could not be contained compactly as pollution will always exceed spatial boundaries and delineations.”

The group appealed to local officials and the regional head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to suspend the companies’ Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the government.

The Mati City Environment and Natural Resources Office pointed out that the 25-year MPSA was awarded in 2004 and mining activities have been in operation since then. The companies halted operations from 2017-2021 when the National Government imposed an open-pit mining ban.

“Aside from the MPSA, the mining companies… are also given the environmental compliance certificate by the National Government which certifies that ‘the development, construction and operation of the mine/quarry will not bring about unacceptable environmental impacts’,” the local environment office said.

The Mati City government also said that they have been “constantly monitoring the operation of the mining company since 2004” to ensure compliance to safety measures. — Maya M. Padillo