De Lima alarmed over Chinese-funded mining project in Zambales

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has expressed grave concern over the suspicious construction of a P200-M worth Ferro-Nickel Plant nickel mining project in Candelaria, Zambales which would heavily be funded by Chinese investors.

De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said the government should carefully assess the environmental, social and economic impact of yet another mining project with China.

“The indiscriminate mining operations in Zambales continue to wreak environmental havoc. Our mountains are stripped of top soil and our river waters are turning all red due to heavy mud,” she said.

“But what’s worse, the government, particularly Mr. Duterte, is obviously willing to allow unscrupulous Chinese contractors rape our environment at the detriment of our natural resources as well as the livelihood of our local residents,” she added.

News reports showed that Fujian Hengrun Investment Co., Ltd of China and Filipino firms Westchinamin Corp. and Easternreach Mining Group, Inc. have agreed to put up Ferro-Nickel Plant in Candelaria, Zambales.

The deal was reportedly sealed recently despite strong opposition of the residents of Zambales calling for an immediate halt to the indiscriminate mining operations in their province which continue to destroy their communities and affect their health.

Although in detention, De Lima was shown some actual photographs of how the river in Zambales had alarmingly turned red due to the risky mining business.

In October 2017, residents of Candelaria and Santa Cruz, Zambales pressed the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to support the cancellation of permits of the four mining firms by then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez because these companies mined the watershed and rendered their fishing grounds and farm lands unproductive.

The mining companies cited include Benguet Nickel Mines Inc., Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc. and Eramen Minerals Inc.

The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) expressed dismay over a 2018 Court of Appeals decision rejecting the appeal of local residents of Sta. Cruz, Zambales and Infanta, Pangasinan for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan with Permanent Environmental Protection Order against all mining operations in the northern part of the province.

De Lima said there is a need to scrutinize all government dealings with regards to mining operations, especially the construction of a Ferro-Nickel Plant in Zambales, to be fully aware of their effect to the residents and impact to the generations to come.

“The government has the obligation to protect the environment and at the same time ensure the wellbeing of the people. Abandoning the people by disregarding their safety and needs is an outright dereliction of one’s duty,” she said.

The Senator from Bicol assured local residents from Candelaria, Zambales that she will “do anything in my capacity–even from detention–to help stop destructive mining operations in the province.”

According to one of the local residents in Zambales, there should be concerted efforts from the government leaders and residents to protect the environment and to enhance their livelihood.

“Papayag ba tayo na mawawasak ang ating kapaligiran at batayang hanapbuhay? Panahon na para irehistro muli natin ang ating pagtutol sa pagwasak sa kinabukasan ng susunod na henerasyon,” he said.

De Lima, who remains detained on trumped-up drug charges, said the mining companies and local officials responsible for the destruction of the environment and people’s livelihood in Zambales should not go scot-free and should be held accountable for their action.

Based on records from ATM, destructive nickel mining operations in Zambales have resulted in farmers’ and fisherfolk’s loss of an estimated P250 million worth of livelihood annually in Santa Cruz Zambales alone.

Last July, De Lima has filed Senate Resolution 778 which seeks a Senate inquiry into the apparent gaps in the country’s environmental laws that compound the prevalence of human rights abuses in communities where there are large-scale mining.

She said the proposed Senate investigation in aid of legislation should take an in-depth evaluation of the continuing negative impact of mining operations on the environment and human rights of local communities

In August 2016, De Lima also filed Senate Bill 960 which seeks to ban black sand mining, which she described as “one form of environmental plunder” resulting to damage on the environment and livelihood of people in the surrounding areas due to floods and landslides.

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