Agusan Norte Provincial Board, LGU want closure of controversial mining firm due unpaid P194-M local taxes, fees

by Ben Serrano

December 2, 2010


            BUTUAN CITY (PNA) - The Agusan del Norte Provincial Board through resolution no. 117-2010 it passed last November 22, 2010 and the Sangguniang Bayan of Tubay, Agusan del Norte it passed August 2, 2010 strongly requested President Aquino to issue closure order and cessation of all mining operations of SR Metals Incorporated.


            The Agusan Norte Provincial Board resolution said it acted and strongly endorsed the Tubay Municipal Council resolution also requesting President Aquino to order the closure of the controversial mining firm.


            On the other hand, the Tubay Municipal Council resolution claimed it was passed due to the clamor of Barangay folk, General Parents’ Teachers Associations, rice farmers, fisher folks, women’s organizations and findings of the Municipal Agricultural office that the mining operations of SR Metals Inc. in Barangay La Fraternidad has becoming environmentally damaging posing danger to health to village residents.


            Official special report from Tubay Municipal Planning and Development Office claimed acute respiratory infection diseases caused by the air dust due said mining firm’s operations had increased.


            In 2008, La Fraternidad Rural Health Unit recorded 69 cases of acute respiratory infections, 78 diarrhea cases, 22 skin illnesses and 32 parasitism cases as compared to near zero in previous years when SR Mining has not yet operated in the area.


            The report signed by Tubay Municipal Planning and Development Officer Winston De la Cena said that aside from increase of health problem due mining, some of the 90 households or about 115 families dislocated due mining in Sitio Kapuk-an, Barangay La Fraternidad were not allegedly given proper relocation houses until now despite promises of the mining firm to give them decent housing after they were dislocated to pave way for the mining operation..


            The Indigenous People’s group calling themselves as Accredited Tribal Sectoral Leaders of Indigenous Cultural Communities of Tubay whom S.R. Metals, Inc had signed Memorandum of Agreement on August 14, 2006 also complained that the mining firm allegedly has not yet allegedly paid them one percent royalty fees from September 2008 to December 2009 amounting to millions of pesos.


            In their July 5, 2010 letter to SR Metals owner Francisco Enrico Gutierrez, eight tribal leaders headed by Datu Ambongan who signed the collection letter claimed that while SR Metals had already earned P2.9-B as per records they obtained from the Bureau of Mines and Geo-Sciences


            The one percent royalty will be coming from the gross output of the mining firm aside from social  responsibility mining firms will provide for host and affected communities as provided by both Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA Law) and the Mining Act.


            More than 3,000 residents of Barangay Lawigan, Barangay Poblacion of Tubay, Barangay Victory, Barangay Tagpangahoy and three other barangays aside from Barangay La Fraternidad signed petitions for the ouster and total stoppage of the mining operations of SR Metals, The residents of 7 barangays provided this writer copies of voluminous petition letters including resolutions calling for total removal of SR Metals Inc from Tubay town.


            “The mining activities already affected not only rice producing lands of Tubay due silting of irrigation canals but also vegetable farmers and fisher folks who also complained about destructive mining activities that’s why different sectors had passed resolutions urging closure of S.R. Mining Inc. apart from huge debt due to its unpaid taxes and extraction fees to provincial and municipal government of Tubay”, Tubay Mayor Sadeka Garcia Tomaneng who was with Agusan del Norte Governor Erlpe John Amante told this writer in an interview.


            The Agusan del Norte Provincial Treasurer’s Office through a collection letter dated October 6, 2010 signed by Isabelita N. Lucino, Assistant Provincial Treasurer who was Officer-In-Charge at that time the collection letter was issued noted by Provincial Administrator Percianita Racho in behalf of Governor Amante demanded payment from SR Metals, Inc. some P 119, 943, 607.49 or nearly P120-M representing unpaid extraction fees and revenue taxes for Large-Scale Mining from September 2008 to September 2010.


            According to Mayor Tomaneng, SR Metals owed Tubay LGU some P72-M in various alleged unpaid taxes based on the Municipal Treasurers’ Office records.While SR Metals' sister company Galileo Equipment owed Tubay LGU in taxes some P3-M, the lady Mayor continued.


            Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) Regional Director Alilio Ensomo of Caraga Region said his office has already conducted investigation against S.R. Metals Inc. through a multi-partite monitoring team MMT) by which MGB is the chair.


            In a text messages to this writer, Ensomo referred this writer to EMB official Rey Degamo for more details of the MMT investigation result.


            SR Metals Inc Vice President for Public Relations Ryan Anthony Culima for his part claimed in a text message that the Agusan del Norte Provincial Board and Tubay Municipal Council Resolutions had no basis because MMT probe official result runs contrary to the allegations against the mining firm.


            Aside from being the mining firm’s spokesperson, Culima currently is Butuan City Councilor who is Chairman of the Committee of Environment being the number 2 city councilor.Culima claimed SR Metals Inc is following government laws, 


            In an exclusive interview by this writer, Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Assistant Regional Director Rey Degamo admitted the MMT already conducted investigation after higher ups at the EMB central office has ordered the MMT to conduct investigations due resolutions that reached President Aquino.


            Degamo recalled that the MMT investigation was made sometime in October 2010 and EMB personnel assigned was Pete Arciga who accompanied other MMT members composed of government and private sectors.


            Degamo however could not furnish this writer copy of the MMT probe results.


            Catholic led- Caraga Conference for Peace and Development (CCPD) Indigenous People’s Apostolate representative Tyrone Calo who is a member of MMT admitted signing of the MMT investigation result which he admitted allegedly runs contrary to all allegations against the controversial mining firm.


            CCPD who is chaired by Butuan Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, D.D. earlier made an anti-mining stance saying one can’t refill dug lands due mining activities, Tyrone Calo admitted.


            But Calo defended his approval of the MMT probe results that somehow allegedly favored the mining firm rather than many resolutions passed against it saying he was just reporting what he saw.


            Like Degamo, Calo could not provide or show copies of the MMT investigation results saying it is now in the hands of the MGB being the MMT chair.


            Concerned environmental groups on the other hand alleged that something smelling fishy in MMT probe results saying it is against MMT members’words against the thousands of residents who are now allegedly suffering alleged environmental destructions due mining. (PNA/Ben Serrano)