A SENATOR has sought a probe of nickel and metallic mining operations on Sibuyan island in Romblon province south of the Philippines after residents set up a human barricade to block these activities. 

“The Senate should hear all stakeholders and unravel the layers of issues that have plagued Sibuyan island for decades,” Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement on Monday. 

“Large-scale mining is already damaging the environment, but it seems that the company is still breaking laws in the conduct of their business,” she added in Filipino, referring to Altai Philippines Mining Corp. “There are repeated reports about the violence caused by mining companies and it’s time the government really listened to the community’s grievances.” 

In a statement, Altai said it is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of environmental responsibility and community engagement.” 

“In line with this commitment, we have decided to voluntarily halt all exploration and testing activities in Sibuyan Island and to continue our full cooperation and coordination with the relevant authorities to address any concerns or issues that have been raised,” it added. 

At least two residents got injured due to police dispersal, she said, citing news reports. “The residents’ peaceful resistance to the intrusion of mining companies in their own homes should not turn into violence.” 

“Residents just want to protect the natural resources in their area,” she added. “The residents are well within their rights to protest.” 

Ms. Hontiveros said Sibuyan residents have been fighting for close to two decades to stop mining exploration in their area. But the island soon became a mining hotspot for its nickel resource. 

Escalation of mining activities, she said, increased further in September 2021 after the Environment department lifted its cease-and-desist order against Altai.  

By December 2022, a mineral ore export permit had been issued to the company, allowing it to bulk test 50,000 metric tons of ore. But residents said the company had failed to get a village clearance, municipal business permit and foreshore lease contract from the Environment department, as well as a permit to build a private port from the Philippine Ports Authority. 

The Department of Trade and Industry has said the Philippines would prioritize nickel exports as a core economic strategy. 

“This economic prospect can urge mining companies to aggressively do business that will undermine the rights and welfare of the people of Sibuyan,” Ms. Hontiveros said. “With the desire to advance quickly, they don’t realize that there are already people being stepped on.” 

The senator noted Sibuyan’s distinction of being “the Galapagos in Asia” for its extraordinary flora and fauna. 

“We in the Senate should help champion the conservation of the island’s endemic flora and fauna, defend its coastal communities from long-term ecological devastation and protect the residents from violent incursions of mining companies,” she said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan