The area surrounding the Mt. Hamiguitan range, located in Mati municipality in oriental Davao, Philippines, is a beautiful and pristine island ecosystem and a major biodiversity hotspot, providing habitat to numerous endangered and protected species, such as the Philippine eagle, for which reason several parts of the area are under national protection since 2004 [1;2]. The area is further a central livelihood source for farmers and fishermen, as well as the indigenous Mandaya and Manobe groups .
Since July 8th, 2004, when the first four, out of a total of seven, Mining Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) were granted to several companies, the region has become under threat to become a major mining development site. The total MPSA concession area of 17,573ha is located between protected areas, whereas 4,778 ha of mining concessions overlap with major drainage systems and watersheds, which represent the main water source for locals and an important habitat for endangered species . Moreover, around 16,000ha overlap with ancestral domain claims of the Mandaya indigenous people , for which reason their Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) to the project was required, according to the Indigenous Peoples Right’s Act (IPRA). However, the FPIC was only achieved by establishing an arbitrary and illegitimate Council of Elders, not recognized as authority by the majority of the indigenous . Large parts of the population fear environmental disasters, displacement and a dramatic loss of their livelihoods due to the mining site. Most affected is the Barangay Macambol, with a population of 3,454 people. Since the issuing of the MPSA permits, they live with constant fears of displacement . Furthermore, the New People Army (NPA) stated they would attack foreign mining companies, which in response caused heavy militarization of the area and presence of company’s private security forces . Thus, generally, social tensions have strongly increased in Davao, since the granting of the MPSA .
Mining development however advanced slowly; partly due to internal disputes between the involved companies AMCOR and BHP Billition, who had founded a joint venture to exploit the site. While the companies settled their internal disputes in 2008, AMCOR was alleged by NGO CAFOD to have paid bribes to community leaders amounting to 20,000 USD, in order to achieve their support, while silencing the opposition . This scandal resulted in the exit of BHP from the 22.7 billion USD project; however AMCOR moved forward . Strong oppositions by the affected communities, particularly through the Macambol Multisectoral Alliance for Integral Development (MMSAID), continued. Also Local Governmental Units (LGUs), which were not consulted when the permits were granted, oppose the project .
Mobilizations included pickets in front of the company offices, educational and informational campaigns, petitions and collection of signatures, and involvement of the national NGO Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center Kalikasan. With their support, villagers filed a petition at the Supreme Court in Manila in 2008, claiming illegality and unconstitutionality of the MPSAs and the whole Mining Act of 1995, as development of national patrimony should be based on equitable distribution of wealth, which has not been the case . A hearing at the Supreme Court followed in April 2013, to tackle a temporary restraining order .
As of 2014, there have been efforts by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to convert parts of the mining concessions into natural protected areas . Currently, to the author’s knowledge, the conflict still goes on, since the MPSAs have not been withdrawn, however the company has not yet started with commercial mining operations.