Only shadows of nature left in ‘Ghost Region’
By HERNZ CUARE
Only shadows of nature left in ‘Ghost Region’
Mountain peaks, slides and slopes, and planes of Caraga Region – the dreamed mining capital and the second poorest region of the country next to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindano – are beauty for the Lumads that they witnessed them as blessings without an end for the eternal living of the tribe.
But Caraga’s mountains peaks disappeared. The slides collapsed. The slopes served as depository ducts of mine tailings with cyanide and mercury that rushed to farm irrigations, canals, rivers, and seas.
Mine tailings turned brown all the greens on the mining sites, devastating the slides, the slopes, and farmlands on planes.
Mine tailings shoved the fishes on rivers and seas. The fishermen shook their heads in disgrace.
Once upon a time the mountains of Esperanza, Bayugan and Prosperidad were glittering with gold. The mountain areas in San Luis and that of Tandag that connects to San Miguel and Tago, Surigao del Sur were covered with virgin forest. The mountain areas of the municipalities of Tandag, Tago, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur were heavy with gold, chromite, copper and coal. The Red Mountain was a high, towering mountain in the boundary of Surigao provinces. Now, all these mountains lost their peaks, their nakedness exposed like deserts of disasters.
Looking back, some 1.2 million hectares of Caraga Region were within the watersheds that support the irrigation systems, livelihood, and source of household and industrial water for the rural and urban areas. Today, only traces of the watershed areas are left for the young Lumads, to remember that once upon a time clean water flowed naturally to their farms and homes.
Decades of mining wrought havoc to Caraga.
In February 2006, the region was hit by floods that claimed 13 lives, P296 million damage to infrastructure, and P50,689,567.00 worth of crops washing away.
In January of 2007, the floods drowned five men and left 193,347 persons or about 41,861 families homeless.
In 2009, 68,696 persons were forced out of their homes when flash floods hit 341 barangays in 34 towns and four cities.
The multinational corporations unceasingly prostituted Caraga without sharing a pint of gold, copper, nickel chromite, coal and other natural wealth that the Lumads should have for themselves.
Mining in Caraga started since pre-Hispanic period. It went full scale only when the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was passed during the presidency of Fidel Ramos. His Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan opened the country to multinational and transnational companies.
The Mining Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. But the High Tribunal overturned its own declaration and upheld the constitutionality of the said Act in 2005 during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Arroyo administration was tagged as spooky to the Lumads. It was during her reign when troop deployment in Caraga Region was beefed up in two brigades (401st and 402nd Infantry Brigade) and six battalions (23rd, 29th, 30th, 36th, 58th and the Military Intelligence Battalion).
The Reengineered Special Operations Team (RSOT) concentrated in communities believed to be strongholds of the communist movement due to the presence of people’s organizations and a strong and organized protest against the incursions of big mining companies.
Majority of the residents of the region, especially those living in the mining areas, remain poor. This is so despite the rocketing profits that had been posted by the mining companies.
Per record in 2009, to name few, the Lepanto Mining reported a 92% increase in sales from its subsidiaries that include Manila Mining Corporation.
Oceanagold reported revenue that doubled to $217.2 million or 49% in 2008. Philex Mining reported revenues of P2.2 billion for the second quarter of 2009. Medusa Mining, owner of Philsaga, reported an earning of $57,252,098 in June 2009.
Caraga or Region XIII (Agusan del Norte, Aghusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat Islands) is the administrative region of the Philippines on the northeastern portion of Mindanao.
It was on February 25, 1995 when Caraga was created through Republic Act No. 7901.
With its denuded mountains and extracted natural wealth, Caraga somewhat lives with the original meaning of its name derived from a Visayan term “kalag,” which means “ghost” or “spirit”.
The man-made and natural disasters proved former Butuan City Rep. Charito Plaza wrong. She authored the Caraga Region Act by selling that Caraga is land of the “brave spirits” ready to undertake whatever challenges that come its way.
Last October 3, about 200 Communist rebels attacked three mining sites in the region and briefly took hostage the employees of Nickel Asia's Taganito Mining before burning trucks, excavators and a guest house.
The United States said that Philippines has untapped mineral wealth valued at more than $840 billion, on copper, gold and chromate deposits, easily making it among the largest in the world.
The government of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III disclosed that it is aiming to see mining investments rise more than four-fold to $18 billion over the next five years.