STATEMENT | A cry for justice for the victims and survivors of the ongoing climate disaster in Davao region

Feb. 13, 2024

PANALIPDAN Mindanao, a Mindanao-wide coalition of various environmental, sectoral organizations and individuals from across Mindanao, stands in solidarity with the people of Maco, Davao de Oro, (formerly known as Compostela Valley Province) following the devastating landslide the occurred on February 6, 2024. This catastrophic event, resulting in the death 68 people, with dozens still missing, is not an isolated incident. Landslides have occurred in the past in this area. Meanwhile, the public has been told that the mining operations have nothing to do with the landslides.

The mining industry apologists miss the point. Our outrage is not based on cause and effect. It is based on the fact that despite the region being known to be landslide-prone and flood-prone, our local and national authorities still went ahead and allowed mining companies to operate. And this holds true for mining businesses in the other areas of the Philippines, too.

The Philippines is made up of islands that comprise a diverse array of ecological systems such as forests, mountains, coral reefs, mangroves, and farmlands, all intricately intertwined in many areas, with rivers and streams flowing into the sea. Any form of mining activity – especially large-scale – within these islands will have profound destructive impacts. Given our country’s vulnerability to annual typhoons – an average of 20 a year – any form of mining activity is bound to be irresponsible.

It is true that because of the geology of the area, the landslide would have occurred even without the operations of Apex Mining Co. Inc. Scientists tell us that the landslides were caused the persistent rains in an area that had already been declared a “no build zone” after prior landslides in 2007 and 2008 that already eroded the area. However, we still hold the company and the mining officials accountable. Mining operations are by themselves already environmentally critical projects, so they should not have been allowed so close to an environmentally critical area.

It is a known fact that mining alters the terrain, alters the water drainage pattern, weakens the soil, and also results to loss of vegetation. These factors and the geology of the area should have pushed all stakeholders to push for bolder and more effective mitigating measures and policies and programs to protect both the communities and environment. The fact is, many people in the surrounding communities had been opposed to the entry of large mining operations, but their voices had not been listened to throughout the years.

If indeed, Apex Mining Co. Inc. is sincere about its “responsible mining” manta, then it should have practiced the Precautionary Principle, and not gone ahead with its operations in the area, however, profitable they promised to be.

For more than four decades, Apex Mining, under the ownership of billionaire Enrique Razon Jr., has been engaged in large-scale gold and silver extraction in Maco, Davao de Oro. Despite reporting a staggering net income of P3.34 billion in 2022, we believe that this came at the cost of the destruction of the environment and the blood and sweat of local communities.

This most recent landslide is only a stark reminder that recurring disasters have occurred, pointing to a lack of corporate accountability and the failure to install mitigating measures to prevent a new landslide and prompt response when a new one occurs.

• On September 6, 2008, landslides in Masara village, a mining enclave in Maco town, claimed 24 lives, injured countless individuals, and displaced at least 5,000 residents, resulting in two ghost communities in Maco, Davao de Oro.

• In 2012, Apex’s soil dumping into the river exacerbated the Typhoon Pablo catastrophe, causing extensive damage to homes, livelihoods, and infrastructure, and claiming two lives.

The murder of local environmental defender Marcelo Monterona on January 3, 2014, by unknown assailants suspected to be linked to the mining company, further raises doubts about the company’s sincerity and accountability. Before his death, Monterona led other victims of Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in an effective protest against the mining company’s operations in Maco, which resulted in pushing the company to commit to indemnify victims and rehabilitate affected communities.

Additionally, Apex Mining Co. Inc. was among the companies suspended in 2016 by Gina Lopez, the short-lived activist-secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We believe this further underscores the company’s irresponsible behavior.

In the light of the tragic Maco landslide, PANALIPDAN Mindanao issues these resounding calls to action:

For the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the disaster’s causes, how it was handled and any mitigation measures Apex Mining Co. Inc. took, if ever, to prevent the landslide from happening.

For Apex Mining Co. Inc. to provide comprehensive compensation and rehabilitation for all victims/survivors, most of whom are its employees.

For local government units (LGUs) to declaration a climate emergency that will help prompt effective climate action.

For President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to consideration the Maco landslide as a wake-up call, to declare a nationwide climate emergency in order to implement sustainable development initiatives.

For the DENR to immediate suspension the operations of Apex Mining Co. Inc. while it reviews the operation’s environmental mitigation strategies.

PANALIPDAN Mindanao commends the Maco community and all people and groups, including the local governments, the Davao police, the Philippine Army’s 525th Engineer Combat Battalion under the 51st Engineer Brigade military units, the Philippine Red Cross, and all groups who have gathered together in the strong, ongoing disaster response. We urge all concerned Filipinos to stand in solidarity. It’s time to demand justice, accountability, and protection of our environment and lives. Together, we can combat corporate exploitation and pave the way for a sustainable future.

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