Mati City gov’t defends mining in Unesco-listed Mt. Hamiguitan range

Published May 24, 2022, 3:55 PM

by Keith Bacongco

DAVAO CITY — The City Government of Mati has defended the nickel mining operations at the foot of Mount Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary Range, saying it is outside the declared protected area.

In a statement released to the media, the City Information Office of Mati emphasized that while the mining company has yet to resume full operations, its mining tenement only covers the foothills of the mountain range, which is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) heritage site.

The local government issued the statement after local residents expressed concerns over the circulating photos on social media of the mining site in Barangay Macambol in Mati City showing an open-mining area near the coastline of Pujada Bay.

A tourist takes a dip at the white sand beach of Pujada Island in Mati City, Davao Oriental. (KEITH BACONGCO / FILE PHOTO/MANILA BULLETIN)

It added that the Mati City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CiENRO) has assured that the mining area is also four kilometers away from the boundary of the Pujada Bay Seascape, which is also a declared protected area.

The Hallmark Mining Corporation and Austral-Asia Link Mining Corporation are both holders of 25-year Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) issued in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

The mining operations was put on hold in 2017 when President Rodrigo Duterte imposed nationwide ban on open-pit mining.

However, then DENR secretary Secretary Roy Cimatu overturned a prohibition on open-pit mining in a hope to help stimulate the economy to recover from the adverse impact of the pandemic.

The mining companies have yet to resume operations as they are preparing necessary documents, the statement clarified.

The City Government of Mati further said that ‘a multi-partite monitoring team (MMT) was also created to monitor the strict enforcement and compliance to the several environmental safeguards put in place to ensure the protection of the environment.’

“The MMT is headed by the DENR-MGB director with the City of Mati LGU as a member. The LGU is represented by the Mati CiENRO and the Mati City Health Office in the said MMT. The MMT is also composed of DENR XI, DENR CENRO, Provincial ENRO, IP Davao Oriental, tribal chieftain of Barangay Macambol, punong barangay of Macambol, community and government relations manager of the mining companies, as well as the resident mine manager, “ it added.

For years, environment activists have been campaigning against the mining operations in Mount Hamiguitan as they will not only threaten the biodiversity of the mountain range but also of the nearby Pujada Bay.

The Pujada Bay Landscape and Seascape was declared as a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) through Presidential Proclamation No. 431 in 1994.

Mount Hamiguitan mountain range is a declared protected area as provided under Republic Act No. 9303 or the Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary Act of 2004, which declared the mountain range and its vicinities as protected area under the category of wildlife sanctuary and its peripheral areas as buffer zone.

The act also emphasized that it was declared a protected area for its highly unique and important biological and physical attributes.

Groups opposed to the mining operations fear that mining operations could adversely affect the Pujada Bay since the tributaries of Mount Hamiguitan drain to the bay.

In 2014, Mount Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary was included in in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The mountain range, which features the unique pygmy forests, straddles across the towns of Governor Generoso, San Isidro and City of Mati.

According to the UNESCO website, the combination of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within the boundaries of the property and the large number of species inhabiting each makes the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary home to a total of 1,380 species with 341 Philippine endemics.

The mountain range is also a known home of the critically endangered species such as Philippine Eagle and the Philippine Cockatoo.

Mount Hamiguitan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Davao Oriental.