Atro Mining-Vitali top exec clarifies ‘watershed’ issue PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 April 2014 11:52

To end speculations, Atro Mining-Vitali, Inc. (AMVI) president Elson S. Ogario in a statement said “we are still not in the stage of mining productions.”

“However, we are almost going into that stage once everything will be fully settled with the city government officials of Zamboanga City as we already have an approval from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB),” he added.

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar refused to give AMVI a business permit on the ground that Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) area is within the proposed Vitali Watershed of the city.

Mr.Ogario, however, said “under the law, a watershed which is still under the stage of proposal to be declared as a Protected Watershed is still open for mining. There is a long process for a watershed to be proclaimed by Congress and the President as a Protected Watershed.  In the case of Zamboanga City, the proposal for Vitali to become a Protected Watershed is still in the first stage and since then, it has never moved.”

The portion of the watershed area which is now covered by an MPSA already became a Mineral Land in accordance with law. Hard Rock Mineral Trading, Inc., the MPSA grantee, and its exclusive operator, Atro Mining, now has a priority right over the area.

Mr.Ogario stressed that “the final arbiter as to the usage of government lands is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).”

DENR has already granted an MPSA.

“Under the concept of priority rights, this portion will no longer be declared as a Protected Watershed.  The City Government of Zamboanga should have respected this decision of DENR/National Government,” he explained.

He further noted: “We fully understand that the MPSA area is part of the watershed.  But watersheds per se is not close for mining under the Mining Act of 1995.  Besides the Vitali Watershed areas that we are talking to are part of the big logging operations in the past; hence, these are already logged-over and bald. Since the time logging operations were stopped, there were no attempts to reforest these areas. Some portions of the area too are already with households.”

“Mining is just a temporary use. Though we will be doing mining operations in the area, but our presence there would greatly help in the betterment of the area, in the restoration of the forests, in the protection of the environment, in the prevention of landslides and erosion and ultimately, in creating a better watershed, especially  when we already leave the area.”

Presently, the area is totally denuded.

Studies have shown that with the kind of soil prevalent in the area which is sedimentary, even during slow rains, erosion do happen bringing these soils into the river causing it to become brown and during heavy rain into chocolate brown.  Being denuded, flooding also do happen at Vitali Proper during heavy rain, abetted by the diversion of Mialim River.

With AMVI’s presence, it can help to protect the environment.

Mr.Ogario revealed that part of the operational plan is to put up “a siltation pond system in our mining area, proper drainage and sabo dams to help arrest the silts from flowing into the river systems.  We will also commit in reforesting the un-mineralized area and do progressive rehabilitation.”

On the question that AMVI’s mining operations endanger the water that flows in the watershed or the water source found in the area?

The company president said: “We strongly disagree.  We will just be mining iron ore and we don’t use any chemicals. Hence, whatever water that presently flows from the area into the river would just be basically the same water as the one flowing now.  As we have a siltation pond systems, sabo dams and a proper drainage systems, the water even that will flow from our mining area would be much cleaner.  As we will be reforesting the area, we could even further enhance the watershed.”

At present, “kaingin” is very prevalent in the area, illegal logging on secondary growth trees and on the remaining patches of forests at areas inaccessible during the previous logging operations would even pose further dangers in the area.  Those “kaingin areas” which are converted to corn and other agricultural plantations where people use chemicals, also pose more danger to the river systems.

Mr.Ogario assured that “our presence in the area would even cause the protection of the area, even improve the area and more so, help in the generation of employment, livelihood, socio-community development, create more investments in the area and contribute in the economy of Zamboanga city and in the progress and development of the city.”

He took swipe on the city government saying “I could not really understand why the city government officials are gung-ho on our mining operations only, when in fact, the Vitali Watershed also extends towards the DACON Area where they have been cutting a lot of trees, and more so now, cleaning the whole area for the planting of rubber trees and palm trees and moving a lot of soil during their development.”

He even pointed out that “when the Vitali Mangrove Reserve, an area Proclaimed under a Presidential Decree as a Mangrove Reservation, were totally cut by Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) to pave the way to fishpond operations, there was not a single howl of protest to it.”

He went to say no one protested over the a Proclaimed Protected Mangrove Reservation and protested on the mining area in the Vitali Watershed which is only a proposed watershed to be protected.

Mr.Ogario lamented when “the Vitali Mangrove Reserve was developed into a fishpond, there was no Environmental Compliance Certificate secured.  Worst, people operating a fishpond in the area were not getting a Business Permit, not paying any government licenses and worst even Income Tax.”