Small-scale mines threaten Zambales mountain

11 Jul 2013

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Chromite mining continues in Mt. Tapulao, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has confirmed to be home to rare plants and animals, according to former Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso.

He said the chromite boulders being extracted from the mountain are “as big as houses.”

“I stopped the mining of chromite in my time even though one of the miners was a classmate of mine. But this still continues until now,” he told the Inquirer by telephone on Wednesday.

Deloso said mining is done on the eastern side of Mt. Tapulao, on the side of the capital town of Iba.

“A tunnel which spans 150 meters inside will weaken the base and foundation [of the mountain],” he said.

But lawyer Ian Barrantes, officer in charge of the provincial environment and natural resources office, said Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane has not issued any permit for chromite mining in Mt. Tapulao. The governor has issued small-scale mining permits elsewhere in Zambales.

“Mt. Tapulao is under tourism development and being prepared by the DENR as a protected area,” Barrantes said in a text message.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has not issued any mining permit either in Mt. Tapulao, said lawyer Danilo Uykieng, MGB director in Central Luzon.

There is no large-scale mining operation ongoing in Zambales, said Uykieng, who also cochairs the provincial mining regulatory board.

In a report on Wednesday, Maximo Dichoso, DENR director in Central Luzon, urged the public to help protect Mt. Tapulao and nearby forests from poaching.

DENR data showed that the 2,037-meter high Mt. Tapulao is the second tallest mountain in Luzon after Mt. Pulag in Benguet. Tapulao, which is 50 kilometers north of Mt. Pinatubo, is also known to American soldiers as Mt. High Peak.

A bill proposing to declare a protected area on at least 5,000 hectares in the 17,000-ha mountain has not passed Congress.

It is being planned as one of the key biodiversity areas and new protected area models in the country under the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP) funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said Dichoso.

Its more than 17,000 ha of “intact forests” straddling Palauig, Iba and Masinloc towns in Zambales and parts of Tarlac are made up of lowland, montane, pine and mossy forests, DENR records showed.

A study began in June 2012 and completed in February recorded 304 species of plants and 142 species of animals in Mt. Tapulao.

A team of biologists and biodiversity experts from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and Diliman Science Research Foundation made the study.

The rodents Rhycomys tapulao and Apomys brownorum are found only in Mt. Tapulao, Dichoso said.

“Of the 142 animal species studied in Mt. Tapulao, 78 are endemic to the country. Similarly, 41 out of the 304 plant species studied in the area are also found endemic to the Philippines,” he said in a report released here on Wednesday.

The UP findings, he said, confirmed previous studies that Mt. Tapulao is a “natural treasure trove for Central Luzon in terms of species richness and diversity.” - Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon