“Make a feint to the east, while attacking in the west.”
That’s among the stratagems suggested in the book “The Art of War,” an ancient military treatise attributed to the famed Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.
It is also known as a diversionary tactic, intended to throw one’s adversary off-course.
And that’s precisely what a coal mining firm that’s been operating on Semirara island off the coast of Antique province in central Philippines has been doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been ravaging nations since early this year.
It appears that the mining firm has continued coal mining activities even as the province has been on lockdown due to COVID-19.
The coal will be shipped to China.
And there’s the rub: two Chinese vessels have been seen in the area waiting for the cargo to be loaded and then transported posthaste to the mainland—or perhaps even to contested territories in the South China Sea where the Chinese have built artificial islands apparently for military use.
The presence of the Chinese vessels has alarmed the Catholic Church in the province, and for good reason.
The diocese expressed concern over the presence of the two foreign vessels on the island off Caluya town, where four people had tested positive for COVID-19. Five other cases have been reported in another town in the province.
Father Edione Febrero, Diocesan Social Action Director, said that the mining operations during the pandemic “are unarguably contrary to human life and safety.”
“National patterns show that cases could rise without abatement despite the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) if no extra precautions are implemented to prevent further infection of the community,” he added.
The priest pointed out that the ongoing mining operations “are a breach of the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine protocol being implemented in the country and in Antique.”
Father Febrero said authorities must order the Chinese vessels to return to their ports of origin until the pandemic is over “and all confirmed cases are closed.” He stressed the need to prevent more cases in the province where health facilities are limited “and has almost nil testing capacity.”
It’s not just the Church that’s up in arms against ongoing mining operations in Antique.
Antique Rep. Loren Legarda said that the island must be on “lockdown” to protect its residents, as she asked Semirara Mining and Power Corp. “to answer all these concerns” in a full-blown investigation into the entry of Chinese vessels on the island for possible violations of health protocols amid the pandemic.
“The export of coal from Semirara to the Chinese at this time, that’s not an essential industry. So why the need for Chinese vessels?” Legarda said.
What’s taking place on Semirara island is a carbon copy of what’s happening on Homonhon island off Eastern Samar also in central Philippines but on the eastern coast.
We wrote earlier about what one observer has described as the “rape of Homonhon.” It’s the same story of corporate greed that has allowed the relentless destruction of the environment even as the entire nation is trying to cope with a deadly infection.
In both cases, the mining firms extract precious minerals from the ground and leave a trail of destruction of the environment even as they promise to assist local communities with jobs and livelihood opportunities along with education and health facilities. The promised benefits are few and far between, leaving poor people without any appreciable improvement in their lives, while the mining firms laugh all the way to the bank.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation of mining communities as they must also contend with a deadly disease that has now infected more than 10,000 Filipinos—and counting.
It’s a highly toxic combination of extensive environmental damage and a dreaded disease that now stalks the people of Semirara and Homonhon islands, and it’s all taking place under cover of darkness, so to speak, with the poor particularly vulnerable to its sinister advance.
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.