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Editorial

Cover of darkness

/ 01:46 AM February 21, 2014

The report, by Melvin Gascon of the Inquirer’s Northern Luzon bureau, almost reads like a thriller, a whodunit. The real question, however, is why. Why are Chinese companies allowed to mine so-called black sand in Cagayan, and get away with it? And why hasn’t President Aquino acted quickly to stop it?

The opening paragraphs paint the scenario in quick, broad strokes.

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“At first glance, the processing plants that dot coastal communities in Cagayan province show no sign of activity, backing local officials’ claim that black sand mining has stopped.

“But as night falls, residents are roused from their sleep as heavy machinery starts running, and Dugo-San Vicente Road becomes busy with dump trucks bringing processed magnetite to Port Irene inside the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Sta. Ana town.”

This portrait answers the how: how, despite raids conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on illegally operating mining companies in the province since last year, black sand mining continues. The operations now happen under cover of darkness.

“The operators perhaps believe that they will not get the attention of residents if their operations are done at night. But that is impossible, because people get awakened by the roar of the engines and the shaking of the ground,” anti-mining campaigner Esperlita Garcia told the Inquirer.

This leads us to the who: Who are those government officials who pretend to sleep while the mineral processing plants get going and the delivery trucks—as many as 200 per night, Garcia said—clog the main road to Port Irene? Who are the authorities in the special economic zone who allow the continued shipment of the controversial material? Who are the powers that be in the province who think that merely shifting mining and processing operations from day to night would be enough to protect the operators from law enforcement agencies or, conversely, to protect law enforcers from charges of sleeping on the job?

Perhaps the most important who: Who are those operators who, despite controversial but still-valid permits that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau cannot yet revoke, have shifted their operations to nighttime?

And the what: What are they hiding?

It must be difficult to pretend that there is nothing illegal to see. The Inquirer’s Gascon saw the nighttime activity for himself. “By 9 p.m., convoys of dump trucks take the highway for the 40-kilometer travel to Port Irene, where the black sand is unloaded for shipment overseas. The trips will go on until the following morning.” How can the authorities manage to miss all that?

Black sand, or magnetite, is a much-sought-after commodity, with many uses in manufacturing. As a Malacañang task force discovered last year, foreign companies, mainly Chinese, dominate the black sand extraction business: Some hold permits issued either by the local government or by the MGB; others do not bother with such niceties.

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One more question, then, involving the when: When is the President going to act on the recommendation of his own Mining Industry Coordinating Council to stop all black sand mining in the country? The council, which is one of those inter-agency agencies under the Office of the President and co-chaired by Cabinet secretaries, found that black sand extraction had adverse effects, not only on the environment, but also on the coastal communities in areas rich in magnetite.

Adverse, and irreversible. Once the black sand has been extracted and processed for export, the damage cannot be undone. Every day that passes, hundreds of tons’ worth of damage is inflicted on affected seaside communities, which become even more vulnerable to massive floods. The truly worrying thing is that the true cost of black sand mining may only be finally tallied after a natural disaster strikes Cagayan or other Northern Luzon provinces where magnetite is extracted.

The President needs to heed his own council’s recommendation, and order an immediate stop to black sand mining in the Philippines.

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TAGS: black-sand mining, Cagayan, Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport, Chinese companies, Dugo-San Vicente Road becomes, Inquirer Northern Luzon, Melvin Gascon, Port Irene, President Aquino, Sta. Ana
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