Virac, Catanduanes – A heated discussion on the controversial issue of mining in the province of Catanduanes took place during the Public Forum on Mining held at the Catanduanes State University (CatSU) Gymnasium on December 11, 2023.

The forum began at two in the afternoon and concluded at around fifteen minutes past six in the evening. It was titled “MINING IN CATANDUANES, BOON OR BANE, a public forum,” and was broadcasted live on Radyo Peryodiko 87.9 DZBP-FM and the social media accounts of Peryodiko and CatSU.

Experts provided explanations regarding the advantages and disadvantages of mining and its potential impact on the safety of residents, particularly in the areas targeted for mining. The forum was attended by various sectors from both private and public offices in Catanduanes. There was a large turnout of students from CatSU, along with the participation of religious leaders, the Muslim community, various organizations, and experts on the issue.

Among the attendees were Bishop Manolo A. Delos Santos of the Diocese of Virac, Caritas Virac Rev. Fr. Renato Dela Rosa, Pastor Nonong Solo, Information Officer Shiela Conche of PENRO Catanduanes, Panganiban Mayor Cesar Robles, Virac Councilor Giovanni Balmadrid, CPIC Student Council President Crustal Joy Tindugan, CatSU Student Council President Francine Mae Tayo, Pastor Danny Lucero, STACAP TODA President, Abaca Farmers, Coco Farmers, Media, Catanduanes Kontra Mina, and other sectors. Some resource speakers also joined via Zoom, including representatives from the Environment Engineering Department of Western Mindanao State University President Dr. Jihan H. Adil, Environmental Legal Assistance Center Mercado De San Miguel, National Highway San Miguel Palawan Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, Board of Director Tanggol Kalikasan Philippines Ms. Chen Mencias, and other resource speakers.

Meanwhile, Governor Joseph Cua, Vice Governor Peter Cua, and Caramoran Mayor Glenda Aguilar were notable absentees among the invitees.

CatSU President Dr. Patrick Allain Azanza provided a statement during the forum. The official admitted to being anti-mining, saying, “I am also anti-mining because it will not be good for the island, but I respect the views of others.”

Resource speaker Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda detailed the adverse implications of mining on the island. She emphasized, “The lack of absolute scientific certainty should not be a reason for inaction,” providing in-depth information on the social and governance implications of mining in an island province.

Ms. Chen Mencias echoed similar sentiments, stating that the only inheritance the people of Catanduanes will have is the environment itself.

Mayor Cesar Robles also expressed his opposition to mining due to the potential damage it could cause to the environment. He stated, “The destruction will be excessive, especially for students who will eventually become leaders of the island.” The Sangguniang Bayan of Panganiban, led by Vice Mayor Arvin Atencia, also took a stand against mining, conducting consultations in the primary barangays of Panganiban. Panganiban is one of the target areas for mining, particularly in the San Miguel and Cabuyoan areas.

The views of students from CatSU, Catanduanes College (CC), and Christian Polytechnic Institute of Catanduanes (CPIC) were aligned. CATSU Student Regent Francine Tayo emphasized, “Though coal mining gives economic benefits, it cannot dominate the adverse and irreversible impact on the environment.” CPIC Student Organization President Crystal Joy Tindugan stated, “Only a few will benefit, and the impact on us will be double,” according to CC Regent President Kywin Dela Cruz.

Religious groups also voiced their concerns. Caritas Virac’s Rev. Fr. Renato Dela Rosa highlighted the serious impact on the security of citizens if mining is pursued. According to Usbad Abad Ampaso of the Muslim Community, it should be stopped as it will harm the environment. The interests of the environment must be fought for, according to Stacap Toda President Gil Calintano. Former PBM Balmadrid, one of the sponsors of Mining Free Ordinance 2023, stood against the proposed amendment to the ordinance after learning about it, immediately expressing opposition in a privilege speech at the Sangguniang Bayan to oppose the proposed suspension of the ordinance due to its significant environmental impact.

The issue sparked intense discussions on the island, with Radyo Peryodiko interviewing both sides, including Catandunganon Kontra Mina convener Andy Po, who strongly opposed the ordinance, Vice Mayor Atencia, who claimed they were not consulted on the proposal, and Vice Governor Peter Cua, who stood by the SP’s ordinance. Following this, the official statement of the Catholic Church was released through an open letter by Bishop Manolo Delos Santos, urging opposition to the ordinance.

Meanwhile, due to the strong opposition from anti-mining advocates, the SP, through Vice Governor Cua’s privilege speech, decided to withdraw the ordinance on December 4, 2023.

In summary, it appears that the majority of those who attended the forum are against mining in the province of Catanduanes. (Junior Patroller Edcel T. Idanan/PBA Batch 16)