October 23, 2017, 3:52 pm
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Power of the people

MANICANI is a small, 1,000-hectare island off the western coast of Guiuan Municipality in Eastern Samar. For those not too schooled in Philippine geography, Guiuan is the southernmost town in what may be the easternmost province of the Philippines - so much so that when Super Typhoon Yolanda made landfall at around 4 a.m. on November 8 four years ago, it was Guiuan (and not Tacloban City) that was Ground Zero.

Guiuan - and Manicani Island - was left looking like a sister city of Hiroshima after Yolanda was done. I saw that for myself because I landed in Guiuan’s old airstrip in the morning of November 12 just four days after the disaster.

On Manicani Island, all of the 500 houses were destroyed, almost all totally, a few lucky ones partially. As a way of helping its residents, Hinatuan Mining Corporation (or HMC, a fully owned subsidiary of NAC, Nickel Asia Corporation) pledged to rebuild every single housing unit whether the owner was pro- or anti-mining. You see, Manicani is one of the many islands on the eastern side of the Philippines that is nickel-rich, and HMC has a mining claim on the island.

I know this by heart. It was NAC’s bosses who sent me to Guiuan on November 12 with a planeload of doctors and medicines to see what immediate help we could provide.

From November 2013 to today, a lot has been done on Manicani by HMC as part of its CSR programs while its operations are on care and maintenance mode. For a few months in 2015 island residents were able to earn about P6 million per month when HMC shipped out part of the stockpile of low grade ore that is piled up on the island thanks to old operations. At the same time a basketball league among the four island Barangays resulted in the construction of covered courts for all of them, as prizes for their rankings in two successive seasons.

No wonder when the Barangays convened assemblies to inquire about public support for the idea of renewal of mining operations, the four Barangays turned in overwhelming majorities of 85% and up in favor of the idea.

But here’s the rub. Anti mining advocates including the handful of island residents who were outvoted by the majority are determined to block the renewal of mining on Manicani. Together with the Diocese of Borongan — distantly located about 200 kilometers north of the island — they are determined to “free” the islanders from mining and “preserve” the environment. The message is the “meager” returns from mining will not make up for the environmental damage mining will bring.

Immediately it becomes clear. It doesn’t matter to the anti groups what the people of Manicani really want. They have made their sentiments known and known in an overwhelming fashion. Was this an uneducated decision? No - because many island residents including students were shown how NAC operations in Rio Tuba (Palawan) are a model for mine rehabilitation - something a succession of DENR secretaries have acknowledged. Convinced, the residents voted in favor of mining. Overwhelmingly. So who are the anti mining groups to insist otherwise?

Come to think of it, even if the decision of the majority was an uneducated one, the principle of “majority rule” in a democracy implies that the minority gives way. Vox Populi, Vox Dei, right? Well, not for anti mining clergy, I guess.

Subsidiarity is a principle that is sacred to those who believe in self determination, in allowing people to decide for themselves what is good for them.. It is also linked to the principle of majority rule as discussed, and together make a strong case for respecting what the islanders want, whatever it is they want. Had they decided against mining, no one has the right to force mining on them; but the reverse is also true - having decided for mining, who are we to force them to reject the industry?

But that’s what NGOs and elements of the Catholic Church in Eastern Samar seem to want to do. To throw majority rule and subsidiarity out the window and impose their will. Forget the six million in monthly earnings! Better stay poor!

Power to the people? Nah. It’s power to themselves.

Enough of this tyranny by a noisy minority. Let the people who matter be heard and whatever their views, let them be respected!
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