SITE INSPECTION. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu surveys the conveyor of the Philippine Mining Services Corp. (PMSC) that loads dolomite to a vessel, in Barangay Pugalo in the southern town of Alcoy in Cebu on Friday (Sept. 25, 2020). Cimatu ordered the PMSC and the Dolomite Mining Corp. to temporarily suspend operations as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources investigates the alleged environmental impact of the two firms' dolomite mining activities. (Photo courtesy of DENR-7)

ALCOY, Cebu – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Friday ordered the two dolomite mining operators in this southern town to temporarily suspend all aspects of their operations.

The verbal order was issued by Cimatu when he led a site inspection on the coastal area of Barangay Pugalo here to determine if crushed dolomite mined by the Dolomite Mining Corp. (DMC) have contaminated the waters in the area amid the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR) investigation on the alleged environmental impact of their activities.

The order took effect immediately on September 25, while the investigation is ongoing, Cimatu said.

Nagpunta ako rito para tingnan tong (reported) environmental violations ng mining operations dito (I came here to look into the [reported] environmental violations of mining operations here),” he said in an interview with the local press.

Cimatu said the crushed dolomite rocks sourced from a mineral-processing plant here are transported in bulk carrier vessels, which might have affected the quality of the water and corals in the area.

Yan yung mga concerns na tinitingnan natin (These are the concerns we are looking into),” he said, noting that he has ordered the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to get water samples in the coastal barangay to be tested for quality and conduct air monitoring.

Cimatu said his office also sent divers to check on the damage to corals due to the fallen dolomites, noting that he was very concerned about the “environmental issues brought up by the province."

The provincial government of Cebu earlier noted new violations committed by two mining firms operating in this town.

An inspection of the seabed in Pugalo showed heavy siltation and damage to the area’s marine ecosystem, raising the possibility of the issuance of another cease and desist order against the mining firms.

Cimatu said without such order, mining operations in the town must be suspended pending the ongoing investigation.

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia asked the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to investigate after aerial photos and videos were presented by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) in a meeting with the EMB, DENR, DMC, and the Philippine Mining Services Corp. (PMSC) on September 17.

The environmentalist group, Sea Knights, found that particles from the crushed dolomite fall to the sea when transported to the bulk carrier vessels through a conveyor belt.

Initial reports submitted to PENRO indicated that corals were destroyed within 500 meters of the seawater because of heavy siltation, causing the corals and the seabed to turn white.

Earlier, the provincial government issued a cease and desist order to DMC and PMSC for selling the dolomite as a substitute for sand and gravel in the domestic market, which is not covered by their permits.

Crushed dolomite rocks are being sourced from the mountains of Alcoy, a fifth-class municipality located approximately 101 km. southeast of Cebu City. These were used for the Manila Bay’s white-sand rehabilitation project.

The PMSC, based in Barangay Pugalo, processes and exports dolomite it bought from DMC, the sole dolomite quarrying operator in the municipality.

Cimatu said the DENR would be closely coordinating with the PENRO to monitor the extent of damage in Alcoy’s seabed.

Earlier, Mayor Michael Angelo Sestoso told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview that dolomite mining in Alcoy has been in existence since 1981 and the activities there are not solely meant for the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay. (PNA)