Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Pelican in Sibuyan

What is a pelican?

The pelican is a large water bird belonging to the genus Pelicanus. It has a stretchy pouch just under its long beak, where it deposits the food it catches, usually fish, before swallowing it whole, head first.

The pelican is known to always peck her breast so that it bleeds. Thus, the bird has come to be known as a symbol of piety. In fact, the pelican has become a heraldic symbol. It appears on flags and emblems.

The pelican is an inland and coastal water bird, but it is not found in the polar regions, the deep ocean, and oceanic islands.

“Occasionally, pelicans will consume animals other than fish. In one documented case, a pelican swallowed a live pigeon and reports of similar incidents have surfaced. In fact, pelicans are fairly opportunistic predators, and while fish forms the bulk of their diet due to being the most common food source where pelicans nest, they will quite readily eat any other food that is available to them,” says Wikepedia in its description of the bird.

Sibuyan being Pacifican, the pelican is not seen in this paradise, not until recently when a different breed of this bird of prey came to nest on its shores.

This ‘pelican’ is an Australian (the Australian variety is called Goolayyalibee) but it has no physical resemblance to the large aves. It does, however, sport its name but no one, until now, can tell with certainty if this ‘pelican’ is pious. I, myself, doubt this, for this ‘pelican’ is in Sibuyan to hunt, not to beat its breast in piety till it bleeds.

What is the Pelican?

On September 21, The Age newspaper in Australia carried a news item about a certain Pelican signing a Romblon agreement with BHP. The article was published by other newspapers and was picked up in Manila by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It was not long before the news circulated in the Internet and in Romblon, where a furious exchange took place between pro- and anti-mining advocates. It found its way in the blogsite of the advocacy group Sibuyan Aton Manggad, or SAM, an acronym which never fails to remind me of a politician with that name who excreted a promise not to run in the last election, only to swallow the pledge later, excrete and all, by, what else, running! Incidentally, this politician was rumored to have pocketed pro-mining money. O, di ba, masaya? But that topic is for another day.

“Junior explorer Pelican Resources Ltd has signed an agreement with mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd for off take from the emerging Romblon nickel laterite project in the Philippines,” the news went this way.

“The off take agreement is to supply 500,000 wet tonnes of product annually for an initial period of five years, with options to extend for a further eight years.
“The agreement is dependent on Pelican confirming a 2.5 million tonne nickel reserve at Romblon and BHP Billiton's satisfaction of the ore grade.
“The ore would be processed through BHP Billiton's Yabulu refinery in Queensland.
“Romblon has an inferred resource of 7.26 million tonnes, with an average grade of 1.56 per cent nickel.
“BHP Billiton has also committed to fund a $US250,000 ($A290,500) exploration program at Romblon.
“Pelican director John Hills said the off take agreement with BHP Billiton reflected the economic potential of the Romblon project.
"The company looks forward to the commencement of the exploration and evaluation program at the Romblon nickel project, and to working closely with BHP Billiton and its subsidiaries to develop a long-term, cooperative relationship into the future," Dr. Hills said.
“The company gave no details of first production and Pelican management was unavailable for further comment.
“Nickel laterite is low-grade and requires intensive processing or a low-cost heap-leaching process where crushed ore is put into mounds and irrigated with acid to extract the metal.
“The agreement was signed between BHP Billiton and Pelican's Philippines subsidiary, Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd (SNPDC).
“Pelican holds a 75 per cent stake of SNPDC while All-Acacia Resources Inc. holds the balance.
“Pelican shares dipped one cent to close at 29 cents,” The Age thus said.
So there, dear readers. As the debate in the yahoogroups said, “A mining giant now enters Romblon.”

But wait, this is misleading. Just what it is they are cooking up in Sibuyan? Who are the main and minor mining players there? And where does this news put SAM and the other anti-mining advocates on the struggle to STOP this "pelican" and company from poaching—and swallowing up—the island?

In the company of the Pelican

Pelican Resources Ltd is a publicly-listed company based in Leederville, Australia, with a market capitalization of AU$28.9 million. Its website does not list how many employees it has. It is not a giant mining company, contrary to speculation. It is an “extractor”. Its main business is oil, coal and gas exploration. It is only a “junior” miner, as the news said, for, indeed, exploration, drilling, and equipment provision services are only sub-industries on its plate. It has iron ore projects in Australia. In Mindanao, it has a gold exploration project in Surigao City and another one 200 kilometers down south. Its project in Sibuyan is its only nickel exploration venture thus far.

Pelican’s chairman of the board, John Palermo, receives a US$94,400 a year in salaries, while its managing director, John Henry Hills, gets as much as US$175,400 per year. Combined, this amount approximates its proposed investment in Sibuyan. Range this against Manong Nic Musico’s estimate of US$375 gross profit per year and you can figure the amount is nuts, peanuts.

Pelican’s mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) application, AMA-IVB-025, is pending before the Minerals and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), although this is not reflected in the MGB list of pending MPSA applications. Perhaps, this must have been approved without our knowing?

It is Pelican’s partner, New York-based BHP Billiton, which is the mining giant—the one capable of processing the minerals that Pelican will dig up in Sibuyan. BHP Billiton is the world’s third largest nickel producer.

For its exploration and extraction operation, Pelican will not do it. These literally earth-shaking activities will be undertaken by its subsidiaries and affiliates—its fronts—the Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd. (SNPDC) and All-Acacia Resources Inc., a joint-venture partner. I have yet to find out if there is a Romblomanon in the SNPDC, but there is a Filipino industrialist there by the name of Jesus Miguel Cabarrus. As to All-Acacia Resources, Inc., this company has been de-listed in the stock exchanges for one reason or another, but Pelican still owns it up to 25 percent of its shares of stocks.
Pelican, in its quarterly report on March 31, 2006, said that the Environmental Management Bureau, another DENR agency, had issued it an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) for its two small-scale nickel ore mining projects in Sibuyan. It said it was “pursuing approval process” for its “open cut mining and shipping of ore.” It further said in its report that it consulted with representatives at the barangay, regional and provincial levels” as part of the approval process. To the Sibuyanons, were you consulted in 2006?
An ECC is required for a holder to be to issued a small-scale mining permit, which allows the holder to extract up to 100,000 tons of mineral per year. That is small-scale? In addition, a small-scale mining permit will allow the holder access to the area covered by its MPSA, so if a mining company has an appoved MPSA application, a small-scale mining permit could facilitate “intrusion” into a bigger area. One needs not be a rocket scientist to figure this out.
The ECC is then forwarded to the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (if Romblon has such) which will endorse it to the governor (we have one, I suppose) who will issue the permit. This process, I assume, had been completed already, and the usual “tong” already demanded, paid, received, and spent?
There are other predators now salivating over the rich mineral resources of Sibuyan, and they ought to be mentioned in the anti-mining advocates’ hate list: JKL Brothers Mineral Ore Quarrying Resources, Ore Asia Mining Development Corporation, Altai Resources, Sunshine Gold Pty. Ltd and Sun Pacific Resources Philippines, Inc.
A search yielded very scant information about JKL Brothers and Ore Asia Mining. Probably, these are small-scale miners granted permits. Sunshine Gold Pty. Ltd and Sun Pacific Resources are subsidiaries of Pelican Resources, too, which owned 40 percent and 35 percent of the stocks of the two, respectively. With its joint-venture partner, SNPDC, Pelican has so far drilled 300 holes in the eastern coast of Sibuyan. More holes will be drilled, more pits will be opened, I am sure, in the next few months.

Altai Resources: Another miner
Altai Resources is very interesting. A Canadian mining company, it has a Philippine subsidiary, Altai Philippines Mining Corporation, whose shares of stock it owns up to 40 percent. From my understanding, Altai Philippines has also a pending MPSA application, but again, this does not show on the MGB list. Nevertheless, the company’s MPSA application lists up to 1,822 hectares of nickel-cobalt-rich lands in Sibuyan as its “property.” Wow, that’s neat.

Pacific Metals Company and Mitsui Mining of Japan, which have cast moist eyes over Sibuyan many years before, had drilled 431 holes and pits in the island. These holes and pits may have been used as basis by Altai Philippines to inform the MGB that Sibuyan has an “excellent exploration potential for discovery of a much larger deposit.”

On November 24, 2004, Altai Philippines had signed an option agreement with an unnamed Australian mining company (could this be Pelican Resources?) and another company named Sunshine Mining Pty. Ltd for the sale of its Sibuyan “property”. Is Sunshine Mining Pty Ltd different from Sunshine Gold Pty Ltd, which is a Pelican subsidiary? I don’t know.

The option was “C$1.3 million payable within six months of the Philippines signing an MPSA.” In effect, Sibuyan had been sold even before a pound of nickel could be extracted from its bowels.

Altai at present has also a sulfur exploration project in Amlan, Tanjay, Pamplona, and Sibulan, all in Negros Oriental, a permit for which was granted by the DENR in 2004.

Thus far, this is the complete cast of major characters in the on-going drama. There is a local cast, you know, the politicians, the hangers-on, the treasure hunters, the miron, but they are minor, and this blogger will write about them in due time. The important thing is that we now know who are out to spoil Sibuyan, so we must be ready for a fight.

To be so, let me end this brief with a famous limerick about the pelican, written by Dixon Lanier Merrit in 1910. It says:

"A wonderful bird is the pelican. His bill will hold more than his belican. He can take in his beak, Food enough for a week, But I'm damned if I can see how the helican."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

This mine is mine: A ballad for the idiots of Sibuyan

There is a threat to Romblon today far more dangerous than the Ebola or avian flu viruses stalking the globe. The threat is far more lethal, more immediate, than that posed by terrorism which Washington and other western capitals are so pre-occupied with and paranoid about.

This threat comes not from just one bin Laden, but from many bin Ladens masquerading as elected politicians, some as businessmen, from my home province of Romblon. They possess enormous clout, have insatiable greed, and have no sympathy or sense of history at all. They are scheming Romblomanons, idiots and all, but they are humans—and alive.

I said this because they stake their credibility on money (and many poor Romblomanons need it!) which these Romblon-brand of bin Ladens have plenty of. Their language is business and their business is mining:

“This mine is mine.”

Reports circulating in the chat rooms of the Internet say that one-half to almost three-fourths of Sibuyan is now exposed to mining. Mining, the source of the country’s seven percent GNP growth in the first quarter of 2007 which Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was so boastful of, is now in Sibuyan. It is here to stay, regardless of what you or this blogger will say.

Most of the news that circulate border on gossip, but I am sure that somewhere out there in the chat room exchanges lie the truth, but which has to be mined (pun intended) for one to be able to make a complete sense of what’s happening.

And what is it that’s happening in Sibuyan?

The latest act of idiocy that transpired was the approval of the application of a certain Rommel Ibuna (is he from Dos Hermanas?) for a permit to explore minerals in 1,620 hectares of Sibuyan land.

In the Asi language, the nearest word I can think of as the equivalent of “explore” is hakar and it means to rend asunder.

In Sibale, when a butcher slaughters a boar or pig and he has cleaned up its skin, the next that he does is make a large knife incision across the belly of the animal and, with the use of his bare and bloodied hands, hakar the stomach and feel what’s inside, turning it out.


The mining companies, in conspiracy with the above-described environment butchers, will now hakar the intestines of Sibuyan without so much word as to what lies inside the belly of our beautiful island. Do you know?

The intestines of a slaughtered boar or pig, once out, nahakar, can no longer be restored, or returned, to its original state. When Sibuyan is finally laid to waste, stripped of its forests, and its land sucked dry, the miners will most likely be gone salivating with their hoard, while we are left to deal with our own sorrows and, I am sure, with our unchanged dire and pitiful economic condition.

I am not a seer, but I read books. I know what happened in the ore mines of Russia, the gold and coal mines of US, the coal mines of China, and the diamond mines of Africa. Mining communities in these countries were boom towns when the belly of the earth still gurgled out plenty of minerals but once exhausted, the boom towns became dead and arid lands; their people looking like empty-handed ghosts.

In mining, prosperity and plenty come first, but following, not far behind the skirt of those who benefit, is depravation and death. This is logical. Nature is not unlimited; its resources not infinite.

Are we going to let that happen? Shall we be another Diwalwal, where small miners throw grenades at each other inside the tunnels for the survival of the fittest? Shall we be another Baguio where, because of the gold mines’ operations, the earth’s foundation has become soft that the water sources of the pine city had dried up?

No amount of pontification and political rationalization will wash in the face of the numerous documented stories about the ill-effects of mining to almost all facets of humanity—to the environment, to people’s health and well-being, to the global climate, to economic and political stability. Shall I go on?

Iraq has been cannibalized for its oil. In Northeast and Central Asia, Iran, as well as the former USSR satellite states in the coat of the Caspian and Black Seas, are being lined up for the West’s next diplomatic and military adventures, not for democracy’s sake, but for natural gas.

Here in the Philippines, Sibuyan is being singled out for its rich flora and fauna, apart from the alleged rich mineral deposits that abound in the island. The illiterates among the politicians and businessmen who are moving heaven and earth—as well as bulldozers and other heavy machines—to hakar the belly of Sibuyan, fell for the picturesque brochures of the mining companies that life would be better if our ore, silver, and gold are churned into trinkets and cash. They don’t speak about dry riverbeds, or treeless swamps, or eroded watersheds. They don’t care about the miners’ starvation wage (which is what they pay). They don’t worry even about the air and water pollution that makes asthmatic children of otherwise vigorous constitution. Well, they will not also speak of the moral pollution to which some of our politicians were the very first to succumb to due to their narrow and distorted sense of right and wrong.

Their greed, of course, is sugar-coated and blunted by sleek public relations—and wads of cash in the pockets of the corrupt. In their brochures, they speak only of the good life that mining will bestow to Sibuyan, the roads and bridges, basketball courts and roadside sheds, retail malls, social mobility, and all that chuvah-eklaboosh, as my eldest daughter Lara, in the language of her generation, describes anything unbelievable and undeliverable.

Long ago, I wrote that if you cut a tree, a fish will die. In Sibuyan, the expropriation language of the moneyed, the influential, and the political classes that now sponsor mining and the rape of Sibuyan, rules out anything that has to do with this environmental equation. Theirs is the language of profit, of unmitigated greed, and of corruption that stinks to high heavens, suffocating even the gods and the spirits of our ancestors.

This is their ballad: “This mine is mine.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Salvaging Sibale

It keeps coming back.

I mean, the ghost of the ship that has been lying on its side in the depths of Sibale Sea for 34 years has returned—with a vengeance—and in the form of a tragedy that threatens to upset the very equilibrium of a peaceful, peaceful place.

From afar, I have been observing the seething exchanges of concerned Sibalenhons in the Sibale Web Forum (yes, Virginia, there is such and if you haven’t visited it, do it now). The exchanges range from the sublime to the sympathetic; to the outrageous to the inane. One has even got the nerve to personally insult the local officials, as if throwing ridicule around will bring back M/V Mactan to where it was a week ago—in the bosom of the sea where it was having a well-deserved rest.

Of course, nothing can be done now, if the wish is to restore M/V Mactan to its original decaying, rusting state. Joey Fradejas’s and Felix Famarin’s photos of the salvaged vessel show it all: M/V Mactan has been cannibalized, after it was rigged with explosives. In the process, Sibale was also salvaged, jarring the Sibalenhon soul, and endangering the Sibalenhon future.

My observations of the exchanges have produced a poem in the Asi, my native language, herein reproduced for the reader to appreciate the depths of what I felt about the violation of the island’s marine environment:

Sibaleng Waya Sibalenhon

Imaw kali it ako ging kakahadlukan:
Nak ka islang palangga ay masalikupan

it estranyong tungang gab-i ka ruyom
it binuhatan—nak waya gi-isipa kung ni-o
ka maisipan.

Miskan bato ay napapayuha
Sa rapyas it bayor nak nagyupa,
sa hapyas it lanang nagsasaya
sa silak it adlaw nak indi iy katugkar
sa dutang palangga.

Imaw kali it delubyong klaro:
Nak nagkikisiw sa pananamgo't tawo--
nak miskan kalag nak nagpapahuway ay pinayupkan—
kabi’y mababanhaw
waya konsiyensya, kung sa bagay!
dahil ka kuwarta'y talagang

Sa kamera yangiy ni Joey
ag ni Felix magrarana
ka dating de kolor nak ragat—
kada muyati habang inggwa pa

it matang Sibalenhong waya
nasusukyat it tentasyon.

Dahil nupay maabot ka panahon
Nak ka Sibale'y waya iy Sibalenhon
dahil ultimo ampas sa pasil, pati tagawtaw
ag libo-o, miskan waya titulo
ay obheto't komersyo
sa mga namumuluyong
de-hudot nak libro.

For over a year thirty-four years ago, Sibalenhons refused to eat fish and other seafood due to an oil spill and the numerous deaths that resulted from the sinking of M/V Mactan. Fish multiplied, because no one caught them. The sinking floated the ship’s varied cargo, most of them the plyboard called lawanit. People salvaged a lot of lawanit from the sunken ship and repaired their houses using the material, but at the end of the day, they cannot eat lawanit, so the hunger for fish became evident. Livelihood, anchored on the bounty and generosity of the sea, terribly perished.

Today, it is M/V Mactan itself and the ghosts of the passengers who drowned with it, that were salvaged. There is also an oil spill because the idiots who did the salvaging rigged the ship with explosives, blowing up without mercy the living marine life around it. If there is such a thing as double-dead, well, the salvaging operation (what a graphic term! what double-meaning!) must have also killed twice the 34-year dead inside the ship. Their ghosts could not have escaped and must have been annihilated.

For sheer idiocy, I give the local officials a grade of excellent. Come on, don’t tell me that you did not foresee the dire implications of blowing up a sunken vessel that marine animals have developed and nurtured as a haven? If you have just consulted a simple dictionary and looked for the meaning of the word explosive, you would have found out that it means destruction. By sheer omission, you have, indeed, allowed Sibale to be salvaged in the criminal meaning of the word.

Test questions to those who allowed this to happen: Will this demon Calixto Enterprises, a bankrupt company in Manila, be able to restore the pristine beauty and order of the coral reefs that they have blown to pieces? What gimmickry will they perform to attract marine life back to the place? The one who can answer correctly will be awarded a guided tour where M/V Mactan had sunk, without protective googgles and oxygen tank.

For the Sibalenhons who were accomplices to, and who abetted, the crime of salvaging M/V Mactan, live with your conscience, if you have one. No one will disturb you, but inner guilt has its own way of exacting just punishment. But for once, please be honest with your own god, whoever and wherever he is. The tragedy which your action or inaction have wrought upon Sibale will someday be in the history books. History, as a judge, is kinder to heroes, but could be harsher to villains than any oil spill.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Mactan Saga: Voices of the Living and the Dead

On the continuing saga of M/V Mactan, I would like the voices of concerned Sibalenhons to take over, for their insights and comments will illuminate us further on the storm whipped up by the intention of the previous Sibale administration to conduct a fire sale of the sunken vessel.

“Perhaps, if there's one person who would vehemently object to the salvaging of M/V Mactan, it would be my brother-in-law, Capt. Jerry Cedeno,” Geoffrey Fabroa writes. “He was a young deck apprentice mate when the tragedy occurred off Maisoting Baybay in July 1973. The cause was overloading and the rough seas, but some said it was not so because the area was located at the northern part of Sibale where strong winds from the south is blocked by the island.

“The management of Compania Maritima (the ship’s owner) stationed him to watch the sunken vessel for a year before he went back to Manila to pursue his merchant marine career on board a foreign vessel.“Although re-floatation is now impossible, salvaging is very much viable because the ship’s metal structure could be still intact even after thirty years of it being under the sea. Proof to that was during the late 60's and early 70's, prospectors were still able to recover scrap materials from the sunken Japanese battle ship bombed by the Americans during World War II inside Concepcion Bay.

“What really bothers me is that salvaging uses a lot of dynamite. This would cause severe damage to our coral reefs and other marine species. I just hope that the incoming administration under Mayor Lemuel Cipriano will refuse to grant a permit to this salvage company and eventually douse off the silly ambition of people for the promotion of self-interest at the expense of other Sibalenhons.”

Geoffrey is interested to know the proponents’ motivation in selling a junk. “If ever the sale has been perfected already, we must be very watchful if the proceeds go to the general fund of the municipality,” he added.

Here's Merwin’s take: “I wish that this sunken vessel (will) be preserved to be one of our diving sites. (The) salvaging of Mactan will cause significant damage, not just to the coral reefs of Sibale, but also to the bright future of Sibalenhons who could benefit from ecotourism which we’re trying to promote and develop.”

Writes Charito: “I'm not a legal expert, but I suppose there were omissions committed in the hastily crafted resolution. For example, some proponents might have wanted to declare the sunken vessel a sanctuary. Was this considered?”

Rogel Fornal, another oppositionist to the sale, is very vocal—and technical. He writes: “For transparency, public bidding is necessary. Thus, a general public announcement, or a newspaper advertisement of an "Invitation to Bid" is a must. The local government should prepare a "Tender or Bid & Contract" document highlighting the salvaging methodology, scope of work, minimum appraisal bid, duration of execution, and abandonment plan, including the conditions for environmental clearance certificate compliance. A bidding committee should be established to handle the tedious process of approvals and recommendations and to monitor sound and safe implementation of the undertaking. This is in addition to the requirement for the contractor to assume all risks and guarantees and to secure all government mandatory clearances, permits, and licenses.”

Harold Feudo, who seemed to know the informant who uncovered the covert plan, writes:

“If government requirements have to be complied with, it seems the process will take time before the sale could be perfected. But again, the latest information from the island tells us that a speedy arrangement is being handled by an agent. Nupay ing yayagor sa last trip.”

But there is a little complication, Harold added.

“There is also a claimant of the sunken vessel. Compania Maritima, who owns M/V Mactan, had apparently sold the vessel to a salvage company in 1979, but it is only after the May 14 elections that a representative from the salvage company had gone to Sibale to secure the approval of the local government for the salvaging of the vessel. The informant said, however, that upon knowing that Mayor Merenciano Fabregas had lost his last term bid, the representative aborted his plan. He might have thought that it would be easier to transact business with the new set of incoming officials.”

“Now, my point here is that there would be a conflict of ownership of M/V Mactan between the local government and the salvage company. Assuming that the claim of the salvage company is legal, what would be the status of SB Resolution 2007-17? Medyo pay naging kumplikado ka sitwasyon. Let's wait and see.”

No, Harold. You don’t have to wait. You just have to ask questions, because Merwin’s informant had said that the salvage company had apparently already laid down the explosives to blast the ship out of the water. If the salvage company receives the go signal (I don’t know really from whom), then be very afraid that all the coral reefs in that part of Sibale will also be blasted to kingdom come.

My first two questions are: Who is in-charge of stopping this salvage animal from doing harm to our marine environment, and whose is the crazed mind that engineered the sale?

“Until we get to the bottom line or final details of this story from the local government, we cannot act,” Rogel said.

No, Rogel. There is something you and your group, the Sibale Def, can do. You can write a stinging rebuke to whoever it was who manipulated this whole transaction and ask that he or she use a little brainpower to realize the horrendous implication of dynamiting a sunken vessel.
Nayum-udan niy gani kag mga kalag ruto, a-payupkan pa! Can you imagine if, heaven forbid, it were Sibalenhon passengers who perished in the ship? Can anybody standup and say, “Yes, you can blast M/V Mactan to hell?” I am just asking.

As a postscript, there is an amount of money which the salvage operation will endow to the island, if—and this “if” is a big possibility—money is the bottom line of l’affaire Mactan. And it is, if Rogel, who says scrap costs P72,000 a ton, is to be believed.

But there are many things money can’t buy. It can’t buy, for example, an unsullied reputation and honor of being true to one’s calling as a public servant. Money can’t buy peace of mind and a guilt-free conscience.

Blast explosives can’t be selective, too. One cannot tell dynamites to explode only when there are no fishes around. Neither can you instruct explosives not to pulverize a coral reef. How about the bones of the dead, if there are still any, inside M/V Mactan’s bowels? Can they complain to the salvage company? Can they petition Mayor Cipriano to use all his powers to banish the people behind the project because if they continue their vile deed, it will be a monumental disrespect for the dead and a destruction of the future of the living?

M/V Mactan is already at rest. Let her rest forever.

Salvaging a Sunken Ship: The Mactan Saga

“I am alarmed . . . regarding the plan of salvaging M/V Mactan, using explosives, by (a certain) Calixto Enterprises Salvaging Team. This team is already at the site as of August 29, and is believed to have already planted explosive devices in the sunken vessel, waiting for the go signal to (fire). However, due to the quick response of our local government and concerned citizens of Sibale, the retrieval using explosives was temporarily halted. But for how long and who will win in this tug-of-war between the people of Sibale and Calixto Enterprises, to which the sunken vessel was already sold to?”

This was the frantic message Merwin Mosquera sent from far away Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia in an e-mail last week.

In his message, Merwin, a classmate who had made good in life as an expat, directed me to a site called Sibalenhon Web Forum which, when I accessed, was exploding with denunciation of the outrageous salvaging act.

But why would Merwin and others equally concerned, mostly so far away from an island, grind their teeth over a sunken vessel? Why should hackles be raised about a resting, rusting ship, which had already been eaten by the depths and therefore no longer recognizable as such? Indeed, why the sudden interest over a piece of junk in the belly of the sea?

For the interested—and they are mostly the Sibalenhons, who are so few that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo might not care about them a whit—the furor over M/V Mactan is about memory. It’s all about history. It’s all about government insensitivity. And it’s all about destroying Sibale’s pristine marine environment.

It all began on June 18 this year, when the Sangguniang Bayan passed S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 entitled, “Resolution Authorizing the Chief Executive to Offer for Sale the Sunken Ship M/V Mactan in Barangay Masadya within the Territorial Jurisdiction of the Island Municipality of Concepcion, Romblon”.
The subject of the resolution was, well, M/V Mactan, the passenger vessel of shipping company Compania Maritima, which sunk off the waters of Masursor—not Masadya, as the resolution falsely claimed—34 years ago, or on July 16, 1973.

For all intents and purposes, M/V Mactan is no longer a ship. It is already a relic, a coral dot in the vast deep of the sea that imprisons in isolation the islands, including Sibale, on that passage to the Visayas called the Tablas Strait.

The length of time since M/V last breathed air on the surface of the Sibalenhon sea has undoubtedly blurred not only the ship physically, but also the memory of its sinking. The resolution authorizing its sale brings back the painful tragedy on that chilly morning of July 1973 when over a thousand souls drowned into their watery graves.
Reading S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 is one of the keys to discovering the mystery of l’affaire Mactan. My comments immediately following the quoted resolution, are bracketed.

“Whereas, there is one interisland ship M/V Mactan sunk and abandoned by its owner for several years in Barangay Masadya, this municipality.” (The author/s of the resolution meant that the ship sank on itself, not sunk by the owner, and later abandoned.)“Whereas, this ship is now hazardous to navigation and environment considering (the) oil spill that would destroy marine life within the area.” (Thirty-four years after M/V Mactan went down, the author/s of the resolution realized, like they were oil engineers, a potential oil spill from the ship and said it is now hazardous both to navigation and the environment. How did they know it?)“WHEREAS, considering the length of time the ship lie (sic) beneath the sea, it is but proper and fitting that the municipality be declared owner of all sunken and abandoned ships within the territorial water of this municipality . . .” (Well, 34 years is quite a long time. What took the municipality so long to claim ownership of the ship? Why not five, ten, or fifteen years earlier?)

The resolution went on to authorize the Chief Executive (the mayor) to offer for sale M/V Mactan. It was approved unanimously, meaning, all members—except one who was absent—expressed agreement that M/V Mactan, now declared to be owned by the municipality, shall be sold.

The names of the SB members who signed the municipal edict will be etched in the glorious annals of Sibalenhon history. These are those of Vice Mayor Raul F. Luistro, the presiding officer, and members Joeffrey F. Ferranco, Samuel F. Famarin, Jasmin F. Familaran, Luzviminda F. Fabunan, Bob F. Fornal, Lenneth L. Fabroa, Ramiro M. Senorin, Job F. Ferrancullo, and Wilson Ferras. The absent member was John Bob Ferranco. He must have been fishing near where M/V Mactan sank when the SB was deliberating on the resolution.

If not for the fact that some nosy Sibalenhons smelt a rat, the resolution would have gone unnoticed. Come on, what’s so earth-shaking about selling a sunken ship? Inggwa gani it nabaligya it tagawtaw o pasil. Barko pang yugrang ngiy?

That’s not the point, however. The issue, as Charito Fornal, who now resides in Canada, said in a rejoinder, is the resolution was rushed. It was a midnight resolution.

“I am trying to disabuse my mind (of the) thinking that this was a midnight resolution, but it seems to me the ingredients of being one is there. I don't think it will only take (a few) days for the SB to come up with such (a) decision given the nature and legal implications of their decision,” he said.

No, Bong. It was not only a midnight resolution. It was a half-baked one. Let me tell you why. Every SB member in that room who deliberated on the resolution knew that their term of office was to end June 30, 2007. They knew that on July 1, they would no longer be “honorables” and chances are that the newly-elected members would pore over the proposal for sale once they get their hands on it. So what they did is to cook it up in haste to consume a fire sale. Somebody in the SB will profit from it, no doubt. The question is who?

The concerned citizen who posted the information in the Sibalenhon Web Forum must be erected a monument. If one will go back to previous posts, one will see that this fellow revealed there was a salvage permit for M/V Mactan, Salvage Permit NR 2006-02, applied for with the Philippine Coast Guard in August 2006 and was approved on September 1, 2006. The identity and address of the applicant was withheld, but let me assure you, he or she will be unmasked in due time. P1,700 pesos was all that was paid for the permit. Vice Admiral Arthur Gosingan, commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, signed the document.

What was interesting was that the salvage permit has a one-year expiry date. It was to expire—and should have expired—the other day, August 31. Now, if the salvage operation was botched because of the whistle blown by Merwin and company, will the shadowy characters behind the salvaging pursue it still?

There is more to it than meets the eye, I tell you.

(First of two parts. Next: Voices of the Living and the Dead)