Inquirer Video of Calatagan Torch Parade – click this link
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Fifty-five torch-bearing farmers from Calatagan, Batangas marched to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City early Tuesday evening to demand the cancellation of an exploration permit it issued to a mining firm.
The farmers, who arrived in Quezon City Tuesday on the ninth day of their protest march that began April 21 in Batangas, have also set up camp outside the Department of Agrarian Reform office to protest the conversion of the 507-hectare rice land they are tilling in Calatagan town into a mining site by the Asturias Chemical Industries (ACI).
Lawyer Magistrado Mendoza Jr., legal counsel of the Calatagan farmers, said ACI has been twice slapped with fines for violating environmental laws.
“What we’re contesting is an issue the DENR-MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) already knows — Asturias is a delinquent mining contractor. In fact, Asturias has been twice slapped with fines for being delinquent,” Mendoza said.
ACI’s mining exploration in Calatagan has been temporarily suspended on orders of Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, said DENR undersecretary Manuel Gerochi.
“Pursuant to the instruction relayed by the DENR Undersecretary for Staff Bureaus Manuel Gerochi, the mineral exploration activities in the contract area are hereby ordered temporarily suspended to prevent any untoward incidents in the locality,” the suspension letter, addressed to ACI President Antonino Buenaventura, read.
ACI’s mining permit expired in December 2007, Gerochi said.
The Calatagan farmers came from the De La Salle University in Taft Avenue, Manila where they stayed Monday night.
Earlier Tuesday, the farmers were met by Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. She gave the farmers a seedling of a molave tree that, she said, represented the struggle of the farmers.
“The Calatagan farmers, like the farmers from Sumilao, give the struggle for agrarian reform and justice a human face,” Baraquel said.
“They are living symbols of what Akbayan has been fighting for, victimized by the greed of the rich landlords yet unwavering in their conviction to stand up to their rights and claim what is rightfully and justly theirs,” she said.
Baraquel said “farmers like them and cases like theirs” push Akbayan to work for the reform and extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in Congress.
In response, the DENR and DAR formed Task Force Calatagan to look into the issue.
Environment Undersecretary Manuel Gerochi said the task force would regularly consult with concerned parties to resolve the conflict.