LEGAZPI CITY: A “camote” style of illegal coal mining operations are thriving in Batan Island, Rapu-Rapu, Albay under the noses of local officials, clashing directly with the reputation of the Province as a pioneer in climate-change adaptation programs.
Provincial board member Arnold Embestro, chairman of the board’s environment and natural resources committee, cited that the illegal coal mining operations in the said island has triggered water contamination and deforestation which might exacerbate the effects of potential landslides.
“There are more than 20 illegal coal mining operations in Batan Island which triggered off deforestation, water contamination and grave health hazard to workers for not using any protective gears,” Embestro said.
“Therefore, a complex disaster is not remote to happen in Batan Island should a landslide occur considering the worsening effect of climate change,” he told The Manila Times in an interview.
The provincial board member paid a surprise visit to the cited island where the coal mining operations are taking place unhindered by local officials.
He noted that there are five large-scale coal-mining firms operating in the island with certificate of contract (COC) from the Department of Energy (DOE) and environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR).
The cited mining firms were Liguan Coal Mining operated by Rock energy International Corp. with ECC issued and validity from February 11, 2004 for 20 years in Liguan village; Coal Mining in Bilbao village, owned by Ibalong Resources and Development Corp. with ECC given last April 12, 2004 covering 20 years operation; Small Scale Coal Mining owned by SAMAJU Corp., with mining operations covering the villages of Bagaobawan, Masaga, and Dan Ramon with ECC dated April 7, 2006 for seven years operation; Small Scale Coal Mining owned by Lima Coal Development Corp., with coal mine sites in Calanaga, Sagrada, San Ramon, and So. Mapisay and Alpi with ECC issued on November 27, 2006 for five years; and Batan Coal Mining operated by Batancoal Resources Corp., operating in Liguan Vicllave with ECC issued dated December 15, 2010 for five years.
However, EMB Regional Director Eva Ocfemia said the ECC of Small Scale Coal Mining operated by Lima Coal Development Corp. has already expired.
Three others coal mining firms operated by Rock Energy International Corp, Ibalong Resources and Development Corp, and SAMAJU Corp., failed to comply with the ECC’s provisions.
The cited non-compliance included the failure to secure permits to operate and failure to submit compliance monitoring reports, submission of proofs of training of personnel and semi-annual monitoring reports to EMB.
Batancoal Resources Corp., according to the EMB official, failed to submit the semi-annual monitoring report.
Embestro, on the other hand, noted that while the cited firms appear to be legally operating in the province by possessing COCs from the energy department, they were found to be violating the anti-fencing law.
According to him, the cited firms are the ones buying coal from illegal coal mining operations in Batan Island, which is seen to be behind the thriving illegal operations in Albay province.
“A camote type of small scale coal mining is thriving in Batan because the large scale coal firms are the one buying its products without any single cent paid to municipal and provincial government’s coffers. There are so many environmental violations committed by these firms including the mode of transportation,” Embestro said.
Majority of coal products are transported from Batan Island through motorized boats and unloaded to the port of Bacacay, Albay before being shipped to Metro Manila and Palanog Cement Factory in Camalig.
The DOE, which has the sole authority to issue licenses to coal mining firms to operate, has no personnel or office in Bicol—the only national agency of the government without a regional office in the region.
Rapu-Rapu, Albay is not only a host to multibillion-peso gold mining operations but also to vast natural coal deposits.
Coal is used as a substitute for petroleum in local and international industries. It currently has a strong market demand due to the successive spikes in the prices of crude oil in the international market.
The strong demand for coal in the local market, according to Embestro, resulted in the proliferation of illegal coal mining activities in the town of Rapu-Rapu, prompting the provincial board to take action and urge the DOE Secretary Jose Rene Almendras to put an office in Bicol to look into the operations here.
Similarly, Embestro also asked the EMB to create an interim task force multi-partite monitoring team for Rapu-Rapu coal miners at the soonest possible time. –RHAYDZ B. BARCIA, Manila Times