A Catholic priest in the central Philippines has expressed apprehension over an offer by a mining company to finance the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine for the town of MacArthur in Leyte province.
“There is a string attached to that move,” said Father Amadeo Alvero, parish priest of Saint Isidore Parish in the town.
The priest has been active in a campaign opposing mining operations in the area.
“I think it is meant to lead [the people of MacArthur] to give their consent to the operation of mining,” said Father Alvero.
“But if the people accept that, I would respect their decision,” he told LiCAS.news in an interview.
The mining company MacArthur Iron Sand Project Corp. has announced that it is “deliberating” on the amount that it will allot for a vaccination program in the town.
The provincial government of Leyte has earlier allocated 20 million pesos for the vaccination of about 20,000 to 30,000 residents in the province.
“We intend to supplement the vaccine supply because this is a primary need during pandemic,” said the mining company in a statement.
The company will present its proposal to the provincial government. “If we can consolidate all efforts, the impact will be great,” said the mining company.
The mining company also recommended that the town of MacArthur, with a population of over 21,000, be prioritized in the vaccine distribution because it is directly affected by mining.
The mining company has been active in addressing the health needs of the town during the pandemic through medical missions and distributions of medical equipment.
The MacArthur Iron Sand Project Corp. has obtained mining claims of about 300 hectares for three years and has given jobs to about 300 people from the town.
Anti-mining activists, however, expressed “reservation” over the mining firm’s vaccine initiative, saying “the intention may be good but it will only further divide the people.”
“The national government has all the machineries and resources to ensure its citizens are safely vaccinated,” said Fara Diva Gamalo of the Freedom from Debt Coalition in Eastern Visayas.
She said the mining company “can help the people of McArthur and nearby towns without destroying the land.”
“They can donate the funds to improve the agriculture sector,” added Gamalo whose group is supporting the campaign against mining in MacArthur.
The national government has tapped the mining sector to generate revenue and improve the country’s economy, which is adversely hit by the pandemic.
A total of 2,300 hectares in MacArthur, Javier, and Abuyog towns in Leyte have been included in the mining claims of the MacArthur Iron Sand Project Corp.