Mining the white gold

Mining the white gold

2 December 2018
Mining the white gold

A SMALL fishing community in Lobo, Batangas is putting a lot of investment in mining the so-called white gold in Lobo, Batangas.

A third-class municipality, Lobo is a coastal town known for its pristine environment and rich natural resources.

Macatangay shows salt produced at the group’s facility in Barangay Sawang.

With high hopes, Leo Glenn Macatangay, president of Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan sa Pagsulong at Pagunland ng Barangay Sawang (SNMPPBS), is leading his group to produce as much salt as possible, to meet the demand for this very important commodity.

Given the support they are receiving from various national government agencies, the local government of Lobo, Batangas, academic institutions and other support groups, Macatangay said there is a big chance of making their endeavor a resounding success and make their small barangay a major supplier of quality salt product in the province and other areas in the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) Region.

Established three years ago,  SNMPPBS was formed to boost the protection of the barangay’s coastal and marine environment and to ease the pressure on the municipal fishing ground of Lobo, by reviving a small salt-making business, to provide fishermen another source of income and livelihood other than fishing.

Cooking salt

Unlike most salt farms, where salt is dried in the open to produce salt, the group is producing salt by cooking.  The group currently produces fine salt and rock salt which they market in nearby barangays in the town of Lobo.

Before the salt-making business, the barangay was able to produce 10 sacks of salt per week.  But poor market access and inadequate support led to the business closing shop.

“Our problem is we don’t have enough rice hull to use for cooking.  There is a possible supply of rice hull in Mindoro but we have to buy them.  Before, we have enough supply of rice hull, but because we had an irrigation problem, many farmers stopped planting rice,” he said.

Hopeful, Macatangay said they were told that irrigation service will be back soon, and farmers can start planting rice again to ensure an adequate supply of rice hull that will support their salt-making operation.

“Today, we can only produce 10 sacks a day.  Each sack is 25-kilo per.  But still, we are having a problem finding more rice hull to cook salt,” he said.

With their salt-making facility, a one-story building constructed two years ago, the group hopes to produce as much as 10,000 kilos per month.  “That is what our beloved mayor requires of us,” he said.

The group’s salt-making facility, which is powered by solar energy donated by a group of students from the Batangas State University, has water tanks where saltwater is stored, a filtering machine, heaters and salt-dryer trays.

“We still need equipment.  More mixers, more trays, and motor pump to pump water from the shore to our tanks because during low tide, it is hard to fetch salt water,” he said.

The salt-making facility of Barangay Sawang is now part of the tourism package offered by the Tourism Offices of the Province of Batangas and the Municipality of Lobo.

Salt production boosts food security and livelihood.  Through biodiversity-friendly enterprises, the fishing community is avoiding overfishing and destructive fishing, while ensuring sustainability geared toward the achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs), particularly, SDG 11, or Sustainable Communities.

‘Unlimited supply’

“We have an unlimited supply of raw materials for salt—the ocean is so vast.  We have clean saltwater.  It’s all around us,” Macatangay said in Filipino.

According to Macatangay, as they gear up for commercial production of salt, they have come to realize that protecting their coastal and marine environment has its purpose.

In fact, their fishing ground is starting to recover, and they expressed hope that it will soon provide them with an unlimited supply of fish and seafood.

“The ocean is very important to us.  This is our source of food, our livelihood.  If we are not going to protect it, what will happen to us?” he said.

Macatangay pointed out that illegal fishing—particularly the use of cyanide to poison the fish and dynamite, or worse, active gear that destroys the corals—are no longer allowed in Lobo, with 24/7 protection provided by members of the town’s bantay dagat.

With their group helping protect their MPA in the barangay, he said fish catch is now slightly increasing, unlike before when fishing was unregulated.

“Fishing within fish sanctuaries is not allowed.  You can fish using hooks, but not nets,” he said.

Marine Protected Areas

Macatangay, a bantay dagat, is also the Barangay Secretary of Sawang, one of nine coastal barangays in Lobo, which boasts of having a highly secured coastal and marine environment against illegal fishing activities.

Situated near the southern tip of Batangas Province, Lobo is about 145 kilometers from Manila and boasts of white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. It has protected mangrove forests and fish sanctuaries, which are part of several locally managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) guarded by volunteer bantay dagat members like Macatangay.

Interviewed by the BusinessMirror on November 16, Macatangay said in Filipino that unlike the yellow metal, which is a limited resource, the raw materials for producing salt are aplenty.

Fighting plastic pollution

Barangay Sawang is fighting ocean plastic pollution through its own little way, said Barangay Sawang Chairman Daniel A. Ramirez.

“From time to time, we conduct coastal clean-up activities to collect pieces of trash brought to our shores by the tide,” said Ramirez.

He surmised that some of the garbage may have been dumped by irresponsible individuals onboard passenger boats, or by boat operators, including commercial fishing operators themselves.

In Barangay Sawang and other coastal areas, solid waste management is not a problem, he said.  But during the typhoon season, their shores are filled with trash—mostly plastic—some coming from as far as Metro Manila.

“We can say that some of the garbage that we collect came from as far as Mandaluyong because there is a student ID from a school in Mandaluyong among it,” he noted with a laugh.

Barangay Sawang, he said, helps conduct an information drive about the importance of protecting and conserving the environment in partnership with the Municipality of Lobo, the Provincial Government and the DENR.

ICM initiatives

The DENR’s Regional Office in Calabarzon (Region IV-A), through Community Environment and Natural Resource Officer (Cenro) Noel M. Recillo of Cenro Lipa City, has identified sustainable coastal and ocean development projects, particularly on habitat protection, as an integrated coastal management strategy in Lobo, which is highlighted by the establishment of MPAs, deployment of artificial reefs, and mobilization of people’s organizations.

These include the management of the Olo-olo-Sawang MPA, the Olo-olo Artificial Reefs, Lagadlarin Artificial Reefs, Soloc Artificial Reefs, Malabrigo Fish Sanctuary and Refuge, Malabrigo Artificial Reefs, Balibago Artificial Reefs, Biga Fish Sanctuary, and Biga Artificial Reefs.

There are also two proposed MPA sites in Lobo, one in Barangay Balibago and one in Barangay Banalo. The establishment of MPAs is a strategy adopted to achieve UN SDG 14, or Life Below Water.

Mining-free town

Lobo is being targeted by a mining company for its rich mineral resources, including gold.

In December 2016, then Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources nixed the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) application of MRL-Egerton Gold Philippines for its mining project in Lobo and San Juan, Batangas.

The mining company’s project, a copper and gold mine, has completed its exploration and is a step short of starting commercial operation.

The project site is situated along the Verde Island Passage, which scientists have declared as the center of the shorefish’s biodiversity in the world.

Residents of Lobo are elated by the decision, preferring to protect and conserve their rich biodiversity and pristine environment than suffer the consequence of hosting destructive development projects.

Pemsea ICM site

The provincial government of Batangas is working in partnership with the DENR and the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (Pemsea), which was created to foster and sustain healthy and resilient coasts and oceans, communities and economies across the Seas of East Asia through integrated management solutions and partnerships.

The DENR and Pemsea co-organized the East Asian Seas (EAS) Congress 2018 in Iloilo City this week with the theme, “25 Years of Partnerships for Healthy Oceans, People and Economies:  Moving as One with the Global Ocean Agenda.”

The Province of Batangas started applying the ICM framework for managing the development of Batangas Bay in 1994.  The demonstration project was funded by GEF, and resulted in the development and implementation of the Strategic Environmental Management Plan (SEMP) consisting of six major action areas: legal and institutional mechanisms, integrated policy and planning systems, integrated management systems and technical interventions, management and technical skills improvement, information base improvement and sustainable financing development, according to the Pemsea website.

The Batangas Bay Region Environmental Protection Council (BBREPC) of the Province of Batangas, established in 1995 as the coordinating body chaired by the Governor of Batangas and consisting of representatives of national and local governments, academe, the private sector, media and community organizations as members, has expanded over time to include other local government units and stakeholders, as the ICM program has scaled up to cover the entire coastline of the province. The BBREPC has recently been renamed the Batangas Environmental Protection Council.

Photo caption:  

An unlimited supply of salt raw material—pristine water—in Barangay Sawang, Lobo, Batangas, is free, and relatively clean, in this part of the Calabarzon Region.

Macatangay shows salt produced at the group’s facility in Barangay Sawang.

Published in Business Mirror.