Sec. Cimatu, heed Mangyans’ plea
I have been in Mangyan country in Oriental Mindoro several times and written about the Mangyan communities living there. About this time last year, I was there for the inauguration of a new training center at Tugdaan Mangyan Center in Naujan town where the Alangan Mangyans have their ancestral domain. I ended my happy piece on it with “More another time.”
Well, today is that “another time.”
On behalf of the Alangan Mangyans of Oriental Mindoro, the Holy Spirit Sisters who have lived and worked with them for decades are asking Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, Mines and Geosciences Bureau head Wilfredo Moncano and Environmental Management Bureau head Metodio Turbella to please take a very close look at what is happening in Mangyan territory and act swiftly before it is too late. We might be looking at a disaster waiting to happen—if it has not yet happened.
The appeal is for the suspension of the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) of Santa Clara International Corp., and to request an updated risk assessment of the construction of Lower Catuiran Hydropower Plant and the 12 other approved hydro projects in Oriental Mindoro.
Why? The information I got is that Santa Clara disregarded the agreement that blasting should never be used in the project, and that dynamite has been used to open a tunnel within an environmentally critical area. This, despite the fact that Santa Clara and Mangyan leaders from three barangays had signed a memorandum of agreement specifying no dynamite blasting.
The consolidated report of Task Force Iwas-Baha (a study directed by the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro) came up with serious findings, among them, that the tunneling that was done through blasting and shotcreting might “have affected the integrity of the rock structure of the site which is a critical area owing to its slope category and proximity to the Central Mindoro Fault, for which reason it is deemed necessary that constant monitoring of the tunnel site must be undertaken using a deep penetrating radar.” The report also said that the geo-physical characteristic of the site must be viewed vis-à-vis its “natural vulnerability to landslides and mass slip.”
The religious sisters who have served the Alangan Mangyans in villages in Naujan, Baco and Victoria towns wrote: “We know the mountains and the rivers, especially the Dulangan, Bagto (Catuiran), Bucayao ang Mag-asawang Tubig. Even in the mid-1980s, the rising level of siltation was clearly seen under bridges on the national highway from Baco. We have noted, since 1983, the growing siltation of the Dulangan River and the creeks branching out from it.”
They further noted that blasting and heavy equipment were used in 1983 to construct the mini-hydroelectric plant along the Dulangan River in Paitan, Naujan. Affected was the Mangkatoc River, a tributary to the Dulangan River. A decade later in 1993, when Mindoro was hit by three successive typhoons, the mountain slopes by the Mangkatoc River gave way. Mangyan workers helped excavate the building and revive the plant. Fast-forward to 2015, Typhoon Nona triggered landslides. The whole mini-hydroelectric plant was swept away!
What do all these say? That Mindoro, with all its mountains and the frequent typhoon visits, is a fragile island. AND YET, the sisters emphasize and bring up to the DENR’s attention, 13 hydroelectric projects have been approved for Oriental Mindoro. Photos of the aftermath of Typhoon Nona’s fury have shown wide devastation—homes buried in mud, farms heavily silted. Task Force Iwas-Baha lamented: “Such destructive flooding was beyond the expectations of Mindoreños … This project is perceived to have brought detrimental effects to the environment.”
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of Mimaropa region had done a study (“Natural Hazards Affecting the Paitan Mangyan Reservation Re: The Construction of the Mini Hydroelectric Dam on the Headwaters of Dulangan River, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro”) that shows the risks and the need for an updated geohazard map and risk assessment.
These all sound very technical, but those who live and have livelihoods in the danger areas—the Mangyans especially who are on the ground—are pleading for help to avert a huge disaster waiting to happen.
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