TACLOBAN CITY – A mining company whose operations were suspended for 15 years due to complaints from residents for its environmental pollution may soon resume its mining activity in the historic island of Manicani in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Carlos Tayag, regional director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Eastern Visayas, says Hinatuan Mining Corporation, which is permitted to extract nickel ore from the island, is now conducting another round of mineral exploration to determine whether it remains economically viable for the company to continue with its operation in the island.

“They have to conduct further exploration which is the reason why some residents are alarmed with the increasing number of backhoes and other heavy equipment. These will be used for the exploration,” he said.

Tayag said MGB Central Office granted the petition of the mining company last March 2, 2022 to extend the expired Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) for 15 years to cover for the years that their operations were suspended.

“The MPSA was good for 25 years but HMC was only able to operate for less than 10 years. This is not yet the renewal of their MPSA but only using the unexpired portion of their mining permit,” he said.

HMC was granted a 25-year mining permit to the Manicani site on October 28, 1992 for an area of 1,164.55 hectares out of total size of 1,166 hectares. The 25-year MPSA was suspended in 2002, and expired on October 28, 2017.

Operations of HMC, a subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corporation, were suspended after a bloody incident in 2001 wherein a vehicle rammed on the picket line of protesting residents injuring a local and two other protesters.

Aside from the damage to the delicate ecosystem that it has caused, residents also complained that mining operations have reduced the amount of land available to farmers. Manicani island is one of the biggest sources of calamansi in the region.

Tayag said conditions in Manicani Island have already normalized and that there is a strong clamor from the residents to resume the mining operations that will bring jobs to the residents.

He said HMC has been a responsible company and complied with government regulations, especially with its tax obligations. “Even when the operations were suspended, HMC has spent millions of pesos for the upkeep in Manicani Island,” he said.

Manicani Island, located 10.5 kilometers off from Guiuan, is composed of four barangays – San Jose, Banaag, Hamorawon and Buenavista. The island is home to over 3,000 residents based on the 2020 Census where people are dependent on fishing and agriculture as their main source of income.

During World War II, the island was converted by the US Navy into a major naval repair facility. The facility included housing for 10,000 people, a mess hall, shops, administration buildings, and an outdoor movie theater. After the war and upon leaving Manicani, US Navy personnel dismantled and removed all buildings and utilities. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail April 17-23, 2023 issue)