Senate inquiry into mining activities, brief scuffle in Sibuyan island sought

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday, February 6 filed Senate Resolution No. 459 calling for a Senate inquiry into the nickel and metallic mining activities on Sibuyan Island, Romblon.

Hontiveros filed the measure following reports that residents in the area continue to set up a human barricade to show their resistance to mining activities in the area.

Two residents reportedly got injured after local police forcibly dispersed the protestors.

Hontiveros said the peaceful resistance to the intrusion of mining companies into their own homes shouldn’t have turned into violence.

“Residents just want to protect the natural resources in their area. The residents are well within their rights to protest," Hontiveros said.

In her resolution, the senator noted that the Sibuyan residents have been

fighting for almost two decades to stop mining exploration on their island.

Sibuyan island has been known for its mineral wealth – specifically nickel — making it a Philippine mining hotspot.

But the nickel mining activities in Sibuyan suddenly escalated after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) lifted its cease and desist order against Altai Philippines Mining Corp. (APMC) in Sept. 9, 2021.

By Dec. 29, 2022, a mineral ore export permit had been issued to APMC, allowing it to bulk test 50,000 metric tons of ore.

Residents in Sibuyan complained, pointing out that the company failed to secure a barangay clearance, municipal business permit, foreshore lease contract with the DENR, and a permit to construct a private port from the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

“The Senate should hear all stakeholders and unravel the layers of issues that have plagued Sibuyan island for decades,” Hontiveros said.

“Large-scale mining is already damaging the environment, and yet it seems that the company is still breaking laws in the conduct of their business. There are repeated reports about the violence caused by mining companies and it's time for the government to truly listen to the grievances of the community," the senator reiterated.

Hontiveros also noted that Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) itself has announced that the Philippines is going to prioritize exporting processed nickel as a core economic strategy to push the country as the world’s second biggest nickel supplier.

“This economic prospect can urge mining companies to aggressively do business that will undermine the rights and welfare of the people of Sibuyan. Maybe with the desire to advance quickly, we’re not realizing that there are already people stepping on them," Hontiveros said.

The lawmaker also emphasized that Sibuyan has been given the 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.