by: Nimrod L. Delante
If you happen to google http://www.biliranisland.com, you will probably be enthralled about Biliran Island as a province because it is blessed with natural wonders, the reason why most Biliranons would claim it an island paradise. .
Undoubtedly, Biliran, as most (if not all) foreign and local tourists would normally say, is an island worth visiting because of its scenic mountains and falls, its hot springs and rustic beaches. But is it worth a visitation if damage has already been done to the rawest nature of the province? I therefore say, “You be the judge.”
Geographically speaking, Biliran is endowed with huge mountains that basin the rivers, falls, and springs necessary for plant and crop vegetation aside from being the people’s source of water. Minerals and soil elements also thrive in the mountains. For one, the mountain located near Sitio Pulang Yuta, Brgy. Cabibihan, Caibiran, Biliran is a rich source of sulfur. This is manifested by the yellow or rust-like color of the rocks and stones of Pulang River as named by the local folks. Sulfur, as the chemical element denoted with the symbol S, is an abundant, multivalent, non-metallic substance that is commonly found in mountains. In its native form, it is a yellow crystalline solid or mineral that can be in a form of pure element or as sulfide and sulfate minerals. It occurs widely in nature especially in the mountains in several and free combined allotropic forms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfur).
Sulfur has many uses. Its commercial uses are primarily in fertilizers, but it is also widely used in black gunpowder, matches, insecticides and fungicides. One of the direct uses of sulfur is in vulcanization of rubber, where polysulfides crosslink organic polymers. As a component of gunpowder, it reacts directly with methane to give out carbon disulfide, which is used to manufacture cellophane and rayon. Sulfur compounds are also used in detergents, dyestuffs, and agrichemicals, even in pharmaceuticals. Sulfur is also an ingredient in some acne and psoriatic treatments. Other important applications of sulfur include oil refining, wastewater processing, and mineral extraction (Ibid, pp. 3-4).
God, without doubt, blessed the Biliranons with the abundance of this natural resource, which will definitely provide means of living to the local folks if the province initiates to invite local and outside entrepreneurs to introduce and manage small-scale industries in order to enhance local employment opportunities without causing harm to the environment not to mention its detrimental effects to people’s health when possible mining occurs.
However, things have gone wrong in Caibiran just lately. The almost 7-month old large-scale mining which was previously unknown to the general public started to give a caveat to the environment and the locals. Indeed, with nature’s rich resource of minerals would come certain damages that man can ever bring if such resources are not properly taken cared of because of the dominance of his ill-fated personal goals. With man’s intention to tap these resources for mining and industrial pursuits, destruction of nature may arise which may further lead to put people’s lives at stake.
This warning just started to bring havoc to Caibiran weeks ago when typhoon Feria struck the province with a heavy downpour of rain. It was awful for the people of Caibiran to see a big part of their mountain washed away by flood brought about by the typhoon. A huge mass of soil was eroded. Everyone who saw the incident was tremored (As a matter of fact, if you want to see a proof, visit the website mentioned above and watch the videos and pictures uploaded therein). A number of ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ were asked about the incident. In the end, a matter worth a legal discussion was laid down on the table: the conduct of sulfur-mining activities caused the environmental mayhem.
Questions from among the people and concerned groups arose: Who decided and agreed for the sulfur mining to take effect in Caibiran? Was there a consensus between those who approved to undergo mining activities and the people who live near the place or other concerned citizens? Was there proper information dissemination about the matter or did it undergo public consultation? Do incidents like what just happened anticipated? Did the decision to conduct (or not to conduct) mining involve other concerned agencies in the local and provincial government? Was this carefully thought of before signing a MOA or approving whatever contract was agreed on? The questions go on and on. But the most important question that was asked is: Who was the signatory? Well, the news must have provided you with the answer. I then advise you to visit http://www.biliranisland.com and read Borrinaga’s news article (23 January 2009) or that editorial of concern by a Biliran.Island.com staff posted on 01 December 2008 for you to get an idea.
As a Biliranon who considers Biliran as my home, I can’t help but be saddened by this event due to man’s transgression or to put it vividly, due to his self-vested interests. Now that this calamity occurred, who suffered? Who would be suffering? Who else will be affected if the same calamity happens soon? The litany of questions continues to pile up in our heads. If this is only the beginning, what is in store ahead of the local folks?
In an article I read in an environmental magazine (Brucker, 2005), the damage that a mining company brings to people and the environment is colossal. With mining, big holes dug underground with a large amount of soil taken out would cause the upper layers of soil to collapse and eventually be eroded during earthquakes and heavy rains. Representative Glen A. Chong, a first-timer solon as congressman of the Lone District of Biliran who joins the call of the Biliranons to stop the mining operations in Caibiran, even stressed that mining operations disturb the ecological and environmental balance that contributes to the general well-being of the communities, and in the absence of specific guarantees for mining restoration after extraction, the communities would stand to suffer irreparable damage not only in the present generation but the future generations as well (Victoria, December 2008).
The damaging effects of mining operations are as strong or even stronger to that of illegal logging. As cited at http://tripatlas.com/2006, Congressman Roger Mercado of Southern Leyte disclosed in a Reuters’ interview that logging and mining done in Guinsaugon, St. Bernard three decades ago was the main culprit for the Southern Leyte mudslides in 2006 which killed thousands of innocent lives. Dave Petley, professor at the International Landslide Centre, Durham University, even told the BBC during an interview that the causes mentioned, if proven true, created a “dangerous combination” that produced a “classic landslide scenario” (Ibid, p. 2). Well then, it was indeed a classic mudslide that more or less shook the world.
Now, if we are left blind and would continue to believe in the revocation of the mining operations as a bureaucratic buffer, what do you think will happen to Caibiran soon? Shall we expect something more horrifying than what just happened? Shall we wait until hundreds or thousands of innocent lives be taken? People need to do something like what the pro-environment and cause-oriented community in Tucdao, Kawayan did when they heard of a possible white clay mining near their place (Borrinaga, January 2009). After all, it doesn’t take a battalion to impact a change. The awareness and vigilance of the local folks and cause-driven groups are of paramount importance.
Take note, if nature strikes back, it will be very deadly. Thus, man has to treat nature with utmost care and responsibility. What we need now are solutions. And I think, the best solution there is, is to STOP these mining activities in Caibiran. If it has been stopped, let us not remain speculative of how long this triumph could be sustained. Furthermore, I think the concerned officials shall sit down together to review, discuss, and reinforce existing policies and regulations about matters concerning the environment and its protection for the people’s safety and for the future of the coming generations. After all, people put officials in political positions for a legitimate purpose.
To realize this, they need to walk the talk.