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Homonhon controversy sparks calls for mine closure

Homonhon controversy sparks calls for mine closure

Residents of Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, stage a protest against the loading of chromite ore by a foreign vessel. PHOTO COURTESY OF EVA MONTES

By CBCP News

April 20, 2020

Borongan City, Eastern Samar

The government’s move to allow a Chinese-manned vessel to load mineral ores despite the province-wide quarantine measures sparked calls to close the mining operations on Homonhon Island.

Homonhon residents started an online petition on urging the government to stop all mining operations on the island off Guiuan, the southernmost town in Eastern Samar province.

According to them, the decades-long mining operations “have caused immense and tremendous environmental and ecological damages to the island”.

“Please help us bring this appeal to our government officials to give our island time and a chance to heal itself,” the petition, which was started on April 17, reads.

The appeal, spearheaded by the island’s St. John the Baptist Parish, also stated that mining caused division among the more than 8,000 residents of Homonhon.

Controversy ignited at the historic island, where Christianity first landed in the Philippines 499 years ago, after environment authorities withdrew its decision to delay the loading operations.

MV VW Peace, a Panamenian-registered vessel manned by a crew of 13 Chinese and four from Myanmar, arrived Homonhon on April 4 to load about 7,000 tons of chromite ore.

The loading was, however, delayed until April 11 when the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) reversed its earlier decision to suspend the activities.

The DENR said that guidelines are in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

As of Sunday, the petition already has more than 7,500 supporters.

Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan said the diocese is supports the collective opposition of Homonhon parishioners against mining.

“Not only that we are opposed to any form of mining operation in the island at any time before, now, or in the future, we are also against the mineral ore loading operations at this time that the whole province is under quarantine,” Varquez said.

“The said operation is unbecoming to the spirit of the quarantine currently in place and puts at risk the health and well-being of the residents of Homonhon and the people of Eastern Samar,” he said.