Geo-tagged expedition in Bulanjao

Geo-tagged CBCD/ALDAW mission’s itinerary in Bulanjao.

On August 2009, the mission moved further south. As we reached the foot of the Bulanjao range (another biodiversity hotspot), we saw an angry red scar running up the slope. This is the mining road of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC), a Filipino-Japanese partnership holding a mining concession area of about 5,265 hectares. In the foreground we saw a procession of trucks criss-crossing patches of standing trees; all that now remains of a once diverse lowland forest. RTNMC and its partner, Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) need to mine nickel ores as part of the expansion of their new Hydrometallurgical Processing Plant (HPP) project. We learned that one condition specified in the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to them in 2002, is that “core zones” should not be included in the areas of mining operations and, this, of course includes the Bulanjao range! Again, environmental laws and regulations seem to lose credence when economic gains and political interests take the lead.

mining in high altitude protected forest

Bulanjao: Mining in virgin forest above 500m. Although small scale mineral exploitation has been banned, large commercial operations are encouraged.

Undoubtedly, the exploitation of Bulanjao is senseless and obscene. Vegetation, here, consists of a unique forest type growing on ultramafic/heavy-metal rich soils. Characteristic species are: Phyllanthus lamprophyllus, Calophyllum sp., Brackenridgea palustris, Gymnostomma sumatrana (mountain agoho) and Dillenia luzoniensis (malakatmon).

Forest of Gymnostomma sumatrana

Forest over ultramafic (also called ultrabasic and normally igneous) soil with predominant Gymnostomma sumatrana growth.

The area is home to at least four plant species that are classified as vulnerable and two of them have already been included in the IUCN Red List. Starting at an elevation of about 40m, we followed the mining road to reach the highest portions of the Bulanjao range. On the roadsides we saw deep clefts created by heavy rain and in several places the water had penetrated so deeply into the soil that the road collapsed. No mitigation measures were evident.

We reached an area where primary forest had given way to a huge crater-like excavation at 566m and also documented landslides, induced by road construction, around the sources of the Sumbiling River. The latter is the most important water source for both lowland farmers and indigenous communities. Marylin Samparan, a local living in the area told us: “time will come when our children will no longer recognize the names of trees, the footprints of animals, the birds’ songs. This will be the time when the forest is gone, the mining companies are gone, the rivers no longer flow…and us? We will still be here.” 

Dario Novellino and friends

Dario Novellino with members of the ALDAW team in Bulanjao.

On 15 August 2009, we discovered the mining road had already reached 859m and construction was on its way. Although the recently approved government 25-year moratorium on small-scale mining is welcome, it will not stop large-scale mining operations in the province. Furthermore, the newly proclaimed Mantalingahan Protected Area does not provide protection for the Gantong watersheds, and many indigenous communities feel that the government has sold them out. It is likely then that the future of much of the remaining biocultural diversity of Palawan will be decided after the May 2010 national election.

Meanwhile, thanks to dedicated campaigners, these issues are being exposed internationally and field findings have been compiled into two geo-tagged reports that can be downloaded through the following links:

Bulanjao geo-tagged report (pdf)

Gantong geo-tagged report (pdf)

Geo-tagging technology reveals mining threats (Ayyansa Tigil Mina)

Iapad community mapping

To request a copy of the ‘letter of concern’ to post to key politicians in the Philippines, please contact Artiso Mandawa, Aldaw National Campaign Coordinator. Evidence shows that posted letters have a higher impact on the Philippines authorities. Alternatively, an ‘action letter’ can be sent electronically through Survival International.

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Related links:

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