A leading church official has called on civil society groups to rally behind the communities affected and threatened by black sand mining operations in Cagayan province.
Father Antonio Labiao, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said the destructive project in the northern Philippines must be treated “not only as a local issue but as a national concern.”
The priest said civil society organizations and faith-based groups in other regions and at the national level “have a huge role in educating the public that this ecological concern affects the entire country.”
“We must stand together against any activity that harms the environment and the communities. We can help in exposing the truth and encourage the public to speak,” he said.
Cagayan province is host to the first large-scale offshore magnetite mining in the country, which was set to begin operation in January 2021.
The group Cagayan Advocates for the Integrity of Creation (CAIC), however, said that the Cagayan River is also subjected to “a destructive black sand extraction in the guise of a river restoration project.”
Father Manuel Catral, lead convenor of CAIC, said proponents of the “so-called river restoration project are not telling us the truth and the real nature of the project.”
The priest said ships and equipment that are stationed along the Cagayan River near Aparri town “are all used for extraction of black sand and not just for simple dredging or river restoration activity.”
A Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region II and the project proponent Great River North Consortium, dated December 10, 2020, stated that a restoration activity along the Cagayan River is needed to address the “massive flooding” in the province.
Father Catral said the proponent has “started the extraction and already transported black sand from the river to a foreign country four (4) times since June this year.”
In February, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba gave assurances that no black sand mining will take place in the dredging of the Cagayan River.
“I will resign as governor of this province if there is any evidence of black sand mining in the Cagayan River during its rehabilitation,” said Mamba in a report that appeared on the Manila Times.