JOINT STATEMENT ON THE SEMIRARA COAL MINE TRAGEDY
Issued by the Antique Diocesan Social Action Center
and NASSA/Caritas Philippines
27 July 2015, San Jose de Buenavista, Antique
At the dawn of 17 July 2015, the north wall of the Panian open pit of the coal mine in Semirara, Caluya, Antique collapsed. Nine miners died. Twenty-nine months ago on 13 February 2013, the same mine pit claimed ten lives.
St. Anthony’s College, the Antique Diocesan Social Action Center, DYKA and Spirit FM condole with the families of the victims of this disaster. Indeed, it is difficult to fathom what pain grows in the hearts of those orphaned. We offer our prayers for those departed and the ones they left, hoping that it is God Himself that will comfort them in their great sorrow.
We strongly reiterate our call for the complete closure of the Semirara coal mines and for the prohibition of mining anywhere else in Antique. We make this call fully cognizant of the fact that many power plants in the Philippines are dependent on Semirara for its fuel and that the mining operator is likewise an employer of thousands. We are also fully cognizant of the fact that industrialization depends much on resources we excavate from the belly of the Earth.
There is an urgent crisis we have to avert – global warming. Global warming is a real environmental phenomenon that is melting our globe’s polar ice caps, raising our sea levels, drastically changing our weather conditions, and reducing our freshwater resources. The Philippines is no. 8 among countries that are most affected by raising sea levels due to global warming. Within the next 50 – 100 years, 6,205,000 Filipinos will lose their habitable lands to water if global warming is not reduced. The Philippines is no. 1 among those adversely affected by drastic weather and climate changes. We have witnessed Frank and Yolanda very recently.
Global warming is largely caused by carbon dioxide and methane emissions. At one end, the use of fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas) and cement production increases the concentration of CO2 in the air. On the other end, rapid deforestation is diminishing the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon. While CO2 is the breathable air of plants, we have deforested the Earth faster than we could replenish it, making deforestation the second leading cause of global warming.
Of the fossil fuels, coal is the most dangerous insofar as global warming is concerned. In 2013 alone, Semirara mines, or Antique for that matter accounts for 7.5 of the 7.8 million metric tons of coal produced locally. Ironically, in 2008, the Department of Energy expanded the mine’s coal operating contract by another 15 years up to 2027. In 2009 it expanded the coverage of the coal operating contract from the original 5,500 hectares in Semirara to 12,700 hectares including 3,000 in Caluya, and 4,200 on Sibay Island.
From 2009 to 2014 alone, coal mining in Semirara has destroyed over 83.92 hectares of 31-species mangrove areas and more than two kilometers to sea of coral reefs. It has introduced toxicity to the surrounding waters and destroyed a rich fishing ground shared by Antique, Romblon, Mindoro and Palawan. It demolished a thriving organic and sustainable aquaculture that benefits at least 30% of the adult population and brings in at least P400 million to the municipal economy.
Unong pit, a Semirara mining area abandoned after its resources were depleted is now underwater. The 400-hectare Panian Pit is walking towards this watery death as well. Even as Panian is being dug to Hades, a new pit is also being dug at Himalian, and is expected to destroy 620 hectares of ecosystem.
Creating safer conditions for miners as is called for by others is no longer a moral option when mining itself has become an act of social injustice and environmental destruction. Such measures only serve to mask socio-environmental ills festering in communities where the common population has been emasculated by corruption, partisan politics, poverty, lack of education and lack of moral leadership.
A number of provinces hosting coal powered plants in the Philippines have stood firm in rejecting the use of coal to supply power to areas in the Philippines. They have realized that despite the claimed benefits of these plants, the disaster these plants create will be of far greater consequence to a greater number of persons and families. We stand in solidarity with these provinces and unite our voices with theirs as we call for the halt of closure of coal mines and coal powered plants in the country.
We demand that the government recognizes the direct contribution of coal mining and coal powered operations to global warming. It is the entire country that stands at a loss for every environmental disaster that hits it. Typhoon Yolanda alone, which killed at least 6,340 is a clear and strong testimony to the fact that the government can barely cope with the disasters brought about by global warming. Yolanda, is not going to be the last of these disasters.
The effects of global warming to the Philippines cannot be underestimated and taken for granted. Millions will be affected as the sea reclaims land, as salt water seeps into our freshwater resources, as drought and megastorms alternately batter the country, as food sources are drastically reduced, as earthquakes and land erosion change the topography of our country. It is a crime against humanity for the government not to take immediate measures to avert climate change.
The government has to immediately shift to less evil sources of power even as it finds better, more environmentally sound, socially just, and sustainable sources of energy. Models for water, air, and sun-derived power are present. The government only has to rid itself of personal vested interest to enable the country to shift to more environmentally sound sources of power. We make this call as we echo the State policy to “protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” and the national motto, “maka-Diyos, maka-tao, maka-kalikasan.”
Pope Francis has recently issued an encyclical, Laudato Si, where he underscored the moral duty of every person to care for the earth. Pope Francis cites that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, eco¬nomic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal chal¬lenges facing humanity in our day.” The Pope is certainly right when he said that “its worst im¬pact will probably be felt by developing coun¬tries in coming decades. “ Our country, together with neighboring Bangladesh and Vietnam must brace for disasters because we will continue to suffer the first symptoms of an impending global disaster if we fail to act against climate change.
This is the reason why the Semirara disaster could not be taken out of the context of a global plundering of the earth’s resources. These coal plants are environmental crimes done in broad daylight. It is our province, Antique, through the Semirara coal mines that provide coal to power plants that in turn saturate the atmosphere with gases that raise global temperatures, destroying the environment for profit without regard for the future generations.
St. Anthony’s College, The Antique Diocesan Social Action Center, DYKA and Spirit FM continue to stand hand in hand with the over 250 seaweed farmers, the Isalba ang Caluya, the Imba Fisheries and Seaweed Planters Association, and the Sabang-Poocan Fisher and Farmers Association who made their stand during the Caluya Declaration in 2012 for the end of all coal mining and to develop sustainable livelihood options. We stand by those who oppose the operations of mines anywhere in Antique.
We call on all Antiqueños to make a stand against coal mining and all forms of mining in Antique. Oppose legislative measures that will authorize otherwise. Withdraw support for politicians and leaders who will scheme to perpetuate mining operations in the province. Reject gifts or assistance funded by mining operators just as Jesus rejected the worldly temptations of Satan. We have a job much greater than ourselves, and that is to save our country and the future generation.
We will not be quiet about this even as we grieve for the families of those lost to mining and other man-induced disasters. We grieve because these disasters are already by themselves a reminder that we as a Christian community have been remiss in our duties. It is our obligation to act and advocate for the protection of our environment and to promote social justice. To quote Laudato Si, “For ‘to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.’”
As always, we seek the help and wisdom of our Heavenly Father in these trying times.
REV. FR. EDIONE R. FEBRERO, JCL FR. EDWIN GARIGUEZ
President of St. Anthony’s College Executive Secretary
Director of the Antique Diocesan Social Action Center NASSA/Caritas Philippines
Manager of DYKA and Spirit FM