The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte

This is a Google Maps satellite image of an area that constitutes the Municipality of Claver in Surigao del Norte.  I was able to observe this from a distance last September 22-24.  The large area appears to have a striking reddish hue because the entire coastal mountain range is DENUDED of its forest cover.  Claver supposedly has the largest iron mineral deposit in the world, and one can surmise that this denudation of the mountains is partly due to the mining activities that have gone on in the past years.

However, (and I do admit that I have limited knowledge on this matter), I could not grasp the idea of a mining operation that is so large a scale as to cover an entire mountain range.  What makes it more suspicious is that there were numerous cargo vessels anchored off the shore of Claver.  What is it that they could be taking from Claver that would necessitate such large and numerous vessels?  And where are they taking them?

Then I came across this video on YouTube uploaded by taureanfate:

Here is the accompanying note of the video:

My job entails a lot of traveling- mostly in the areas of Mindanao. Took this video last year and I just thought of putting some sort of bg music for it.

For people who don’t reside there, this place is known to them as The Red Mountain. The land/soil is really close to bright red. It’s really a sight!
The first time we passed by the place, there were still a lot of “red mountains” visible. The second time however, was really frustrating. Almost everything was just FLAT and lifeless.

Residents living nearby knew that something is going on. With all the big ships that were docked near the shores, they knew that the truckloads of land/soil were being transported to somewhere. They said, they all go to JAPAN.

So then one begins to wonder..

Kailan nagiging masama ang sibilisasyon at industriyalisasyon?

1.) Kapag ibang bansa ang nakikinabang sa yamang lupa ng bansa– Makikita sa video ang mga barkong nakaantabay, naghihintay sa mga trak na siyang may dala ng lupang galing sa lugar (mas kilala bilang The Red Mountain)

2.) Kapag naging bulag at pipi ang mga tao sa mga kamaliang nakikita.

3.) Kapag umabot sa puntong nilalapastangan na ang kapaligiran kapalit ng ano? Modernong gusali? Beach resorts? — Unang daan namin sa Brgy Taganito, di pa sementado ang mga daan, may mga pulang bundok ka pang makikita.. Subalit sa huling panhik namin, mabibilang mo na lang ang mga bundok, makikitang may may mga nagkaingin, at may dalawang piyer nang nagawa para sa mga barko..

–Props to Mr. Noel Cabangon’s Nais Ko (BG music), it was your song Sir that first popped into my mind while taking the vid. Thank you.

Clearly, something atrocious is going on.  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AT ALL?!?!  Is there no DENR office in the entire province of Surigao del Norte?  How can anyone justify giving an environmental permit to such an obvious act of environmental degradation as this one?  Even from faraway Bucas Grande Island, one can see the reddish dust rising from this entire stretch of the coast – evidence of accelerated soil erosion of mountains slowly being leveled.

Then we need to ask another ugly question.  Clearly someone benefited from this atrocity.  Who?

Here are the current and past governors of Surigao del Norte starting from the most recent:

Sol Matugas (2010-present)
Robert “Ace” Barbers (2007-2010)
Robert Lyndon Barbers (2001-2004 and 2004-2007)
Francisco Matugas (1995-1998 and 1998-2001)

That’s as far back as I could look up.  (If you know the ones prior to 1995, you can place them in the comments section below.)  Quite obviously, one can see only 2 family names in that list.  I have no way of knowing whether what’s happening in Claver has been going on for more than 16 years.  But even if this has gone on prior to 1995, it’s also clear that for 16 years, some really powerful people in this province turned a blind eye while the land was being destroyed.

I looked around more in the web and it seems that GMA 7’s Reporter’s Notebook will be doing an investigative report on this and other similar cases tomorrow, October 4.  I for one intend to watch it, and I suggest you do too. This needs all the publicity it could get to shame the government officials into acting and perhaps reversing this man-made catastrophe.

And if this turns out to be tragically irreversible, then let it serve as a reminder about what can happen if the same is allowed on other places, most notably in Palawan.

God bless the Philippines.  God have mercy on the Philippines.

10/4/11 Update:

I just found out that the NPA (New People’s Army) attacked a mining operation in Claver in the morning prior to my posting of the blog.  While I’m no fan of the NPA, (in fact, I’m very much against it) I feel assured that there are at least people who are actively struggling against the environmental destruction, for whatever reason.

4/21/12 Update:

In the past months, I have received (and continue to receive) a lot of comments regarding this particular blog entry, both for and against mining.  At first, the pro-mining posts made me question my views on mining in Surigao del Norte.  As such I endeavored to do a lot more research just to be absolutely sure on whether or not my original views are justified.  I have done this, and I have come to the conclusion that while a few minor details of my original entry are inaccurate, these do not in any way affect my conviction that what’s happening in Surigao del Norte is blatantly destructive and far outweighs any good benefit.

In the past weeks, I have received a deluge of pro-mining comments whose phrasing are strikingly generic as if they were lifted straight out of a pro-mining handbook.  As I have already received similar comments and replied to most issues they raised (and more importantly acknowledged any mistake I might have made), I do not feel the need to repeat my replies.  And I certainly do not feel the need to publish the new duplicitous comments either.

More to the point, I’d like to make it known that I will no longer approve for publishing any additional comments on this issue.  I’m thoroughly convinced of my beliefs and no amount of agreements or disagreements will strengthen or weaken, respectively, such conviction.  I will however still read new comments in their entirety prior to deleting them.

I run a travel blog and I consider it a failure on my part that this entry – which has almost nothing to do with traveling – is the one that has gotten the most number of hits in the history of this blog.  Disabling the comment function for this post is my way of spending more time blogging about my travels. 

If any prospective pro-mining commenters feel particularly aggrieved about not being able to reply to the points I raised, then they are certainly welcome to create their own blog where they would have greater freedom to elucidate on the supposed strengths of their position.  (And they can even get even and disapprove my comments should I feel the need to make them.)

= = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Surigao & Butuan series dated September 22-27, 2011:

1. The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte
2. Preview: Surigao del Sur’s Twin Gems
3. The Surigao & Butuan Series (prologue)
4. Bucas Grande and Sohoton Cove
5. A few stops between Sohoton and Socorro
6. The Long Road to Bislig and Tinuy-an Falls
7. An Afternoon in Hinatuan
8. A Heritage Tour of Butuan


36 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte

  1. nakakalungkot isipin na may ganitong pang aabuso sa ating likas yaman. marami ng pangyayarin tulad nyan sa ating bansa subalit ang ating gobyerno ay walang ginagawa. At ngayon may susunod na bayan na matutulad dito ito ay ang CASIGURAN, AURORA. Kaya di ko masisisi ang aking mga kababayan na magalsa laban sa proyektong ito, (LABAN MGA AGTA) . Kaya Sen., Cong., Gov. ANGARA itutuloy nyo pa ba ang sabi nyo ay para sa ikakaunlad probinsya o ng bulsa nyo. Sa kaalaman ng marami may mga kalokohang ginagawa ang mga ANGARAng ito isa na dito ang pag bibigay ng permiso na kumuha ng BLACK SAND dyan sa CASIGURAN barko ang gamit nila ibig sabihin maramihan ang pagkuha nila ng ating likas yaman. Hinuli ng pulis Casiguran pagkalipas ng mga ilang araw may tumawag galing kapitolyo ng payagang umalis ang barko utos sa taas. Mag ina kayo talaga wala na kayong magawang mabuti. Dyan sa claver dalawang pamilya ang nakinabang dito sa CASIGURAN isa lng. At isa pa para sa kaalaman na rin ng iba si Sen. ang bumibili ng mga pribadong lupa sa murang halaga 250-300 per ektarya tapos siya ang magbebenta sa namumuhunan ng magkano? isa ka pa.

  2. The blog post is good but it could’ve been better if you asked for an opinion from a geographer, GIS specialist or remote sensing specialist too, most especially in interpreting the satellite image. Just a suggestion. 🙂

    • Thanks! I initially wanted to write the blog as if I’m writing a news report. However I realized that it would take me too much time to consult those professionals of the type that you mentioned… and I feel that I needed to blog about it as soon as possible while I still had the motivation and time for it. And so I composed the blog as a plea rather than as a report. Fortunately, some real journalists from GMA 7 actually made a report on it.

    • Yes, that’s precisely why I posted this blog. Not everyone has the time nor money to actualy go to Surigao del Norte to see first hand this rape of the environment. It’s so easy to ignore it when one does not see it for oneself.

    • I can see what you mean when you say you feel deceived. When one travels by land in SDN, this destruction can’t easily be seen. Most tourists who visit there bypass the mainland and go straight to Siargao. It is only when you travel by boat from Surigao City to Bucas Grande Island will you see the scale of the destruction.

    • Siguro Toni 3X a day kang kumakain sa isang araw at may snacks pa. NO TO MINING din ako kung may ibang alternative way kayo na ma suggest sa gobyerno ng SURIGAO na mapakinabangan ng mga naka tira doon. Taga Surigao din ako, at naikot ko na halos lahat ng sulok sa Surigao, ang daming lugar na walang pangkabuhayan dahil hindi nabiyayaan ng magagandang lupain or development tulad ng lugar mo Toni or sayo liquiddruid. Development brings progress to a certain areas giving hope to the hopeless, bringing rice to unfertilized lands, information, schools, hospital among others and one of such development is mining. My wife used to walk 25 kilometers or hitch a ride from passing copra trucks before to go to the nearest school from her house, but now that mining is in their area, her neighbors children only walks 100 meters each day. I do not say that mining is all good and do not bring destruction, life has always 2 sides, positive and negative, parang battery, pag puro positive and battery nyo, malamang hindi gagana mga latop nyo para mag reply sa post ko.

      • Your positive-negative scenario is just valid if there’s balance and if the negative is only used as a last resort. Those benefits you mentioned should be provided by the government even without resorting to destroying the environment. As such, it is provided by mining companies with the expense of destroying the environment – an evil that far outweighs the good.

        There is no balance in what you are saying. I only see environmental prostitution.

  3. THIS IS REALLY HEARTBREAKING. No words can describe the horrible and atrocious sight, much more the fact that we are not the ones benefiting for this act. Philippines, cheap commodity?

    Thank you for sharing this. Mananagot ang kailangang managot.

  4. Sir, the google map you posted above does not show what you called a DENUDED forest. It is LATERITE deposit, weathered metamorphic rock which in the process bleached the soil leaving it high in IRON, NICKEL and other associated minerals. From what you mentioned CLAVER has the largest deposit of IRON in the world, not true, AFRICA is much larger than CLAVER. Laterite is poor soil because it is high in IRON and not of the essential element needed for plants or tree to grow, meaning you cannot develop it into agricultural areas for people to plant what they need, it also does not give you the kind of forest that you know, only shrubs that even goats do not like to eat. Kindly research for old maps, say 1950 maps, where in, the area is still not being mine and post it in your blog also and then tell everybody here in your blog that the area is STILL DENUDED because of mining. Also kindly research about LATERITE and possible plants that people can grow for them to have alternative living and not to depend on mining. I hope you will be responsible enough to show people first alternative way of living before you take away what way of living they have right now in the area. Hope you will post this one so that your blog will not be one sided. Salamat.

    • Lester, I did include some qualifiers in my blog. (You can spot these with an intelligent re-reading of what I posted.) You make a good point in out the inaccuracy of the metallic content and the amount of it in the land, but it does not strengthen your point one bit. You commit the same short-sighted mistake a lot of pro-mining advocates commit. Just because the mountain is rich in minerals it does not necessarily mean that it should be mined until there’s no mountain anymore. I don’t think I need to point out the evils of soil erosion.

      It’s not my responsibility to show other people who destroy the environment an alternative way of living. It is however my responsibility to point out what is happening NOW. To use an analogy, if I see a grown man who looks like he’s raping a young girl, I will not stop and think of wholesome alternative activities to suggest to that man. I will not even try to observe for a while longer just to be sure. I will immediately stop him myself or find someone who can, if that man is much more powerful than I am. So whose responsibility is it to find alternative livelihood? The government officials of course. It’s what they get paid for. (But sometimes, they get paid more to turn a blind eye.)

      Having said that, I am willing to keep an open mind on this. You claim there’s evidence out there that what’s happening in Surigao del Norte is not bad.. Show us.

  5. Pingback: Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Philippine Realities in Google Maps

  6. thank you for posting this. i did not know this was happening in surigao del norte as well. i am from the cordilleras and have been witness to forest denudation because of mining. it is heartbreaking. i hope people who can really do something about this will see this blog. meanwhile, we all do our part by posting things like this so other people can see what is going on.

  7. Greed is the root. I would love to see the people behind this catastrophic acts killed by firing squad. They rip the people, they rip the environment. We better rip them back. I am pro-NPA in their action to this.

    • It seems that I was wrong on the NPA’s motivations. According to reports, it seems that the NPA attacked the mines in an effort to improve the labor conditions and compensation of mine workers. There was no mention on protecting the environment. Nevertheless, it’s good that the environment got a temporary reprieve.

  8. This are the same mining sites(the videos, featured by GMA7) that were raided by the NPA last oct 3…..we may not agree with them but the question is, what is the Government doing even if they were informed weeks before prior the airing of the GMA “Pilipinas for Sale” documentary

    • Kasi mga tao dyan tamad MINE lang ang inaasahan dati copra 1970 to 1980 dapat kasi magkaroon sila ng ibang way na pangkabuhayan para matanggal ang minahan like magsaka, mag fishing kasi sayang ang lupa dyan matataba no need for fertilizer

  9. This is pure exploitation of nature and humans. After the forests are gone in 1970s to ’80s, comes next the mountains. Mountains are disappearing! Where are they gone? Maybe they will materialize in Japan and China. I can not imagine total environmental destruction taking place in the Philippines where we have good environmental laws. You reported rocks and soils being loaded in large ships? So its no longer pure minerals that are being transported, but mountains!
    I am trying to download your video for my class in environmental science to show the destructive nature of mining. The DENR should really review the ECC that it issued for this mining company to determine compliance to ECC conditionalites.

  10. Pingback: The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte « KALIKASAN – Southern Tagalog Environmental Action Movement

  11. grabe talaga ang mga pagka sakim ng mga mining corporation na yan, matigil na sana ang kalokohang pinag gagawa ng mga ito. ng hindi na madamay pa ang ibang yamang kalikasan. mga nasa pulitika sana aksyunan naman ito, like mga senators, ito naman sana ang imbistigahan nila na may mangyayari namang hustisya, hindi yung ningas kugon lang. at higit sa lahat kay president pinoy, sana ay pag tuunan nya ng pansin ang mga naninira ng kalikasan at ma totally banned ang mga iresponsableng minahan!

  12. Hi, I made a link of your site in I hope you don’t mind. Actually, there are many people who feel the same way but in the open, it has not yet reached a critical mass to bear weight in government’s decision-making. Until then, we can only watch as our natural environment, or whatever’s left of it, is plundered to the ground.

  13. I was @Mount Bagarbon last November watching the local kids diving off two large rusty ships. I asked a local guy if the ships were there to transport coconuts? He told me “No, they are transporting soil to Japan. I was speechless at the thought that someone was able to take the Philippine earth from under the feet of Philippine people, and sell it to another country.

  14. Been here so many years back,college for educational tour on my major economics. At that time,1998 already heart breaking to know that Philippine “yaman” is extracted right from the very eyes of its poor people. This was taken 2011 so i can only imagine the destruction to the place and the people in it. Sobrang nakakaawa tlga!

  15. Wow I posted on my Facebook this is as bad as the rainforest destruction need to spread the world and get this stopped or regulated like replanting like in forest in the USA

  16. Hi, we went to Bucas Grande and Sohoton cove recently and I see what you’re talking about. Assuming that i’ve never passed by there, the google map image is disturbing enough. But I’ve seen the horror. Before all the fun, the jellyfish, the hidden lagoons, the cove, the crystal clear waters and all other wonder, we came upon a mining town engulfed in red fog. Trucks, cranes and other mechanical figures were everywhere while miners were walking about. My spirits dampened when I see ordinary dwellers doing day-to-day activities, like kids playing or merchants selling, who have to inhale iron-induced air that doesn’t seem healthy at all. It broke my heart more as we rode the boat to bucas grande since we finally saw the iron wastes contaminating the water at the port and the whole panoramic landscape of its denuded mountains enveloped in scarlet air. I have to admit it was a pretty sight to behold especially come twilight. For a moment, it deceived me into thinking it was beautiful because of how the mountain looked: red, eery and majestic. I snapped out of that deception, remembered what’s beneath the mountains and realized that I was wrong with my “majestic” description. Keep on writing eye-opening articles that seeks for truth and justice!


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