By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
Where have the seaweed farms and salt beds of northern Antique gone?
Vicente Edjan says they are disappearing. Semirara Mining Corporation (SMC) killed them.
Semirara was a forested island with abundant marine life. Residents say its white beaches are comparable, even more beautiful, than Boracay’s. Its bounties – fisheries in particular — benefit both local fishers and distant ones. One need even use a banca or net to harvest its bounties; he or she only steps into its shoal to gather shells by hand.
That was Semirara of yonder years.
Edjan, in his early 70s, taught at a barangay elementary school in Igbaras, Iloilo. He transferred to Iloilo City in the late ‘60s but spent much of his prime life supervising a salt farm in Caluya, Antique.
Martial law ushered in the Austrian firm Alpine-Voechst that ventured with the government-owned National Development Corporation (NDC), in coal mining that changed its geographical and economic landscape.
The Marcos dictatorship licensed AV-NDC to mine Semirara via open-pit method, i.e., strip the entire island of its forest cover and flatten entire mountains unlike the other practice where minerals are dug in tunnels that preserves a substantial portion of the surface cover.
Ownership of SMC changed with the collapse of the dictatorship, from AV-NDC to DM Consunji, Inc. (DMCI).
The tragedy unfolding at Semirara is “development”, the government since Marcos tells us. Semirara is being stripped bare of its forest cover and surface and they call it “development.” Natural wealth is being plundered, “development.” The bounties of the land are cornered by a handful, “development”.
A fishing ground is contaminated by toxic sludge and its catch dwindling is “development”. Jobs and livelihood are lost as the shoals poisoned by coal slime prohibit seaweed and salt farming, is “development.”
Where did the profits from Semirara’s coal resources go? Your guess is as good as mine but definitely, they didn’t go to Antiquenos. The people of Caluya, of Antique in general, lose their jewel; they bear the brunt of ecological disasters spawned by the plunder of Semirara but are never compensated for that.
Ms. Sally Zaldivar Perez, the governor then, once announced that the court backed the assertion of her administration that SMC owed the province more than P500 million in real property taxes and arrears.
Antique did not collect a single centavo; DMCI dragged the battle to the higher court. Sally stepped down after her third and final term in 2007 and was replaced by Exequiel Javier who gave SMC indefinite reprieve.
Javier’s law firm in Manila, Ms. Perez explains, is DMCI legal counsel. As counsel, Gov. Boy Ex, is de facto protector of the plunderer of Antique’s coal resources, incidentally, the biggest in Asia.
Mining apologists foist the “magnanimity” of mining companies for generating jobs.
The National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) debunks that argument. Mining & quarrying contributes the least to the national economy, only .9, not even one, percent, to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998 – 2010. The jobs it creates is a measly .4 percent of total employment in the same period (http://www.nscb.gov.ph/headlines/StatsSpeak/2012/041012_rav_mining.asp.
The seven miners killed and five others missing after a mudslide in SMC February 14 is enough reason to stop treating not just Antique but the entire country as a single minefield.
Repeal the Mining Act now.