Destructive mining expansion in Masbate

This article is available in Pilipino

Filminera Resources Corporation (FRC) is again pushing to expand its mining operations in the mountainous areas of Milagros, Uson and Mobo towns in Masbate. The company will expand in the aforementioned towns after its Masbate Gold Project plundered gold and damaged the environment in Aroroy town.

Accompanying the expansion are intensified military operations and deployment of armed forces to protect the company and its facilities. At least 900 armed forces (300 SCAA, 300 FRC private forces and 300 Blue Guards) serve as company guards.

Recently, attacks against those opposing the FRC have been recorded. These include the attempted murder in May of Rodolfo Igot, a leader in Barangay Barag, Mobo, and the killing of farmer Randy Mahinay last June in Milagros.

Foreign plunder

The FRC, which has the largest gold mining operation in the country, is 40% owned by the Canadian company B2Gold and 60% owned by the Filipino company Zoom Mineral Holdings Inc. The company partners with Philippine Gold Processing & Refining Corporation (PGPRC), fully owned by B2Gold, in processing gold ore.

The company began its operations in Aroroy in 1997 when it was granted a 25-year permit. The FRC operations expanded by 4,988 hectares in Aroroy in 2007, with PGPRC opening the same year. In 2010, it expanded by another 584 hectares. In November 2022, its original permit for the 290 hectares was renewed.

In its more than two decades of operation in Aroroy, Filminera hauled more than 63 tons of gold ore and earned approximately ₱130 billion pesos. In the first quarter of 2023, the company sold 29,650 ounces of gold at an average price of $1,922 or ₱105,710 (at ₱55=$1 exchange rate) per ounce. The company’s total revenue during this period is estimated at ₱3.1 billion.

Meanwhile, B2Gold expects to process 7.8 million tons of gold ore in Masbate this year, to produce up to 170,000-190,000 ounces of gold. In total, B2Gold’s net income reached $286.72 million in 2022 from total gold production of 1.03 million ounces in its operations in seven countries.

Mining damages

Filiminera caused serious damages in more than two decades of operation in Aroroy. These include environmental destruction, poisoning bodies of water and rivers, destruction of civil infrastructure due to heavy mine explosions, landslides, displacement of residents and farmers, as well as militarization and cases of human rights violations.

Among these was in 2013, after pipe carrying the company’s toxic and chemically contaminated water was punctured. Cyanide, a acrid and deadly poison, leaked and stank in Barangay Panique. Residents also recorded poison-related deaths of their livestock grazing near the river.

In response, the people of Aroroy mounted protests and resistance all over. In 2016, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered the temporary suspension of the company’s operations due to lack of required permits.

The company was then also revealed to have submitted a deficient technical report to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and failed to pay more than ₱1 million in mine waste fees, among other violations. An environmental group and several personalities also filed a Writ of Kalikasan before the Court of Appeals in 2017 to halt the company’s operations.

Meanwhile in August 2020, after a strong earthquake hit Masbate, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan passed a resolution calling on the MGB to immediately stop the operations of FRC. The local government feared that the company might cause a large-scale water leak containing toxic chemicals that would affect 40,000 residents.

Despite damages caused by the Masbate Gold Project, the reactionary government continues to support it. The project was even awarded the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award in 2020. Government agencies and localities, and police and military institutions are colluding with the company to deodorize it using its “corporate social responsibility” programs.

Destructive mining expansion in Masbate