Mindoro Island is one of the Philippines´ priority biodiversity conservation areas as home to critical endemic animals such as the Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis), or “tamaraw” .
The Spanish reportedly called the place as Mina de Oro (meaning "gold mine") from where the island got its current name. Mindoro is rich in minerals such as gold, copper, chromite, nickel, silver, and other natural resources, making it attractive to international companies. The region is occupied primarily by indigenous groups, who are specifically targeted for extractive exploitation, especially large-scale mining. Mining developments have subsequently caused widespread pollution, vegetation loss, community displacement, and more . Mining has also exacerbated impacts of natural disasters and increased the vulnerabilities of local communities to flooding, landslides, soil erosion, and more, which has threatened wildlife and traditional subsistence farming livelihoods [3, 6].
Mining industry development in Mindoro became a government priority during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, forcefully imposing 23 mining projects benefitting foreign investors despite resistance from local stakeholders, civil society groups, and communities. This caused Mindoro to become a conflictive zone, and locals have threatened suicide over their lands being taken .
In response, local indigenous communities and civil society organizations, with support even from the European Commission, have been protesting and pursuing litigation to ban mining and for formal ownership of the land. Some tribes also have formed human barricades keeping miners out. To them, even the sight of foreigners is seen as a huge intrusion. The threat of mining firms blowing up the sites where their ancestors are buried is, they say, too great even to contemplate .
One of the conflicting mining companies was US Pitkin Petroleum, which gained access to indigenous Mangyan land after bribing tribal leaders with 60,000 pesos (about $1,000). This was a lot of money as Mangyans typically only earn 30 cents daily. The Mangyans protested in retaliation, causing Pitkin to withdraw, however, Chinese partners later came in and resumed the exploration . Another major conflictive company was Intex (read more in related case).
Mining conflicts have also increased violence and extrajudicial killings. Expedito and Manuela Albarillo were an activist couple and leaders of political party Bayan Muna who were actively opposing mining in Mindoro Oriental since 1994. Manuela was also a leader of women´s association Gabriela. They opposed the mining operations because of the negative impact it had on their town, San Teodoro. The cutting of trees and continuous blasting of the mountains created problems for the farms and destroyed the agricultural produce of the farmers in the town. In 1995, flash flooding intensified and triggered by mining operations destroyed farmers´ crops. Prior to the start of mining operations, there were no disasters of this nature. In 2000, mining operations were temporarily stopped due to a petition from the community .
The military labeled the family as NPA members, claiming that their environmental work and involvement in Bayan Muna was a front for communist terrorism. Consequently, in 2000, the 16th Infantry Battalion was deployed to a military camp nearby, sparking a series of abductions and lynchings of many local leaders. The military frequently came to the Albarillo home to threaten them to stop campaigning before eight armed men ambushed their house on April 8, 2002. The men tied up the family, including two children, and abducted the parents. The couple were tortured brutally before being shot dead. Police reports of the incident refer to Manuela as an NPA member and to Expedito as the suspect for assassinating Mayor Oscar Aldaba despite widespread knowledge that both were peaceful activists. There has been no investigation or prosecution. The victims´children Arman and Adeliza were relocated to a refugee camp to live in poverty away from their family. Arman continued to receive death threats from the military . Members of Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and other groups such as Karapatan likewise continue to be murdered from red-tagging .
Arman Albarillo followed in his parents´ footsteps in becoming the secretary for Bayan Muna and criticizing mining during the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. He was a frequent fixture of street protests and was well known by the regional and national media. In 2007, he was a delegate to the Third International Assembly of the International League of Peoples Struggle (ILPS). On June 30 2012, he was murdered in another case of red-tagging after having been on a hit list since 2008 .
Despite the violence, locals continued their advocacy for many years. On January 30, 2008 the government announced plans to train and provide militias to mining corporations, leading to the displacement of indigenous communities across Mindoro who had to evacuate when threatened by military operations protecting mining explorations . In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda flooded the area badly, and its severity was blamed on mining and quarry operations especially caused by Canadian-owned Mindex Mining Corporation, Aglubang Mining, and Intex [4, 9]. The mining exploration sites previously weakened the environment with mine tailing, erosion, and more, making the area environmentally unsafe. Moreover, the locals were socioeconomically vulnerable as the mining sites also contaminated the Mag-Asawang Tubig watershed, which irrigated 40,000ha of rice fields and consequently endangered the whole province´s food security and fish stocks . Consequent activism and litigation led to discussions of a moratorium on mining. On October 5, 2020, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) finally passed a 25-year moratorium on large scale mining and a ban on small scale mining for 15 years . However, since the ban on large-scale mining, small-scale mining has now become a worse environmental and social problem .