Jubgan Residents: One Voice Against Mining

"Despite yet again another victory, we know that these mining companies will never stop destroying our place for their greedy interests. Still, we believe that when people are united to defend the sanctity of our natural resources, there is hope that these greedy companies will never succeed."

Jubgan Residents: One Voice Against Mining

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By Michael Javier
Columban Lay Missionary in Myanmar

JUBGAN is the name of the small village where I grew up and had my primary education in. It is the last village in the Municipality of San Francisco, Surigao del Norte, in North Eastern Mindanao. It is located at the foot of the mountain, between two rivers where the residents get their water for daily use. More than 500 families live here whose livelihood is either fishing or farming. We could get food from the harvest and the abundance of God's gift of creation. I could still vividly remember how simple our life was. That is, until an unfortunate event happened. 

In March 2014, a tarpaulin was posted on the national highway of Jubgan which said "Farm to Market Road." There were no other details indicated. We only knew that it is a government project. They started constructing a road from the national highway leading up to the mountain. The residents and the landowners were surprised because they were neither informed of the project by the contractor, Surigao Mining (SURIMIN) nor of the local officials. They worked very fast that they completed the roadway in a few days. They cut many trees, dug the soil, and started collecting minerals. From that day on, the water in the river became muddy brown every time it rains, tainting our bluish seawater. The people began to complain.

Unfortunately, the residents were divided into two factions: those who are pro-mining, being workers who receive salary from the activity, and those against mining because they believe that it was detrimental to their livelihoods. Most of those in the anti-mining group were fishermen. 

Since some of the villagers have foreseen the drastic effects of the mining activity, young men and women used social media to catch the attention of the local government, while others gathered ideas on how to stop it.  They called for a meeting during the time I was there, so I joined them. Someone advised us to go to the nearest regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to verify the legality of the said activity. We then organized a signature campaign so we can voice our complaints against the people behind the mining activity. When we forwarded the petition to the DENR and the MGB in Surigao City Branch, they were amazed at the number of signatories. We gathered almost a hundred complainants supported with concrete reasons to stop the activity like the water pollution. The officer-in-charge inspected the area where the mining activity happened, and they found out that the mining operators did not even comply with the required papers for legal operation.

A week after submitting our complaints, we received a message inviting us to attend the hearing of these offenses together with our local officials. This will be attended as well by the financier of the mining company.  We encouraged everyone who signed the petition to attend the hearing, but most of them could not join because of the costs of transportation. To resolve this, we took the initiative to rent a van. During the hearing at the office of the Mines Bureau, we learned that the activity did not have any legal documents to operate because they only applied for a permit for small-scale mining. What they did was more than small-scale mining, and they operated even if the application has not been approved yet! Thus, they were ordered to stop the operation at once.  We partly blamed our barangay officials for this unfortunate event because they allowed those people to operate without thinking of its consequences. Nevertheless, it was a great victory that we were able to stop their "farm to mining road" activity. 

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Jubgan residents attend hearing

Since then, nature started to heal. The water in the river and sea are clear once again. The farm to mining road was filled with bushes and the people started living normally as they did before. But not for long! 

Last September 2021, the mining operator came back under the new name “Gotinga.” Ramon Gotinga is allegedly one of the owners of Gosun Siargao Waves Corp. With the permission of some of the local officials, including our new barangay captain, they were able to operate again. This time, they planned to build a seaport for faster and easier transport of the minerals that they could get. Another tarpaulin was posted stating that they already have a permit from the DENR. They worked double time and even did some quarrying in the rivers. Once again, the people in my hometown were faced with essentially the same problem, but with more aggressive opponents. The residents could not even check the  sitebecause armed soldiers were guarding the area. Again, many concerned citizens were alarmed. The people asked for a meeting with our barangay officials but the latter deceived the residents.  They claimed that mining is good for the people in our barangay

The people took the initiative to file a complaint against the barangay captain, some local officials, and the operator just like we did before,but this time, we called the attention of the Municipal Mayor and the neighbouring barangay to help us.Our Mayor secretly made his move to respond to our cry. He called for a press briefing with the local media, DENR, MGB, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Gotinga (mine operator), and the Local officials. The residents were not even informed about it. I notified the residents right away and told them gather as many residents  as possible.  Transportation was once again a dilemma. Thankfully, some of our friends overseas who are also against this mining activity contributed some money for the fare and the snacks for the people. 

During the briefing, it was exposed that Gotinga presented fraudulent documents.The agencies who were invited asked them to stop the activity. When the operator claimed that the people in Jubgan already approved the activity according to the barangay captain, the residentscried, "Wala mi mouyon anang mina mina diha, nabuhi mi bisan walay mina!" (We did not agree to that mining. We survived even without mining). So, they were forced to stop and leave the place immediately. 

Despite yet again another victory, we know that these mining companies will never stop destroying our place for their greedy interests. Still, we believe that when people are united to defend the sanctity of our natural resources, there is hope that these greedy companies will never succeed. No matter how wealthy they are, the united voices of the people will be heard. We hope and pray that this voice will continuously be heard and respected. 

As this new dawn of hope begins to emerge, we are happy to know that our new governor has cancelled all the permits involving the destruction of nature, even those of the mining firms that had been operating for a long time.

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GoSun Siargao Waves Corp. extracting tons of debris along Jubgan River in Barangay Jubgan to build a wharf and road for its mining operations in the area. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2021 by ROEL N. CATOTO/MindaNews