Major victory for the protection of the Marbel Buluan Watershed

The Marbel Buluan Watershed forms the catchment of several major river systems that straddle over three provinces on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. It is a vital biodiversity area spanning 121,000 hectares in the Roxas and Quezon Mountain Ranges that forms a headwater source for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. A controversial mine, the Tampakan copper-gold project, is planned at the centre of the watershed. Over the past decades, numerous local stakeholders have raised concerns on the impacts of the mining project to the environment, health, food security and livelihoods of the directly affected Indigenous and local communities and in low-lying areas. In March of this year, after years of preparation, the three provincial governments finally signed a joint ordinance (local law) creating the Mt. Buluan Protected Watershed, in effect putting more than 8,000 hectares of mountain into formal protected area status and a ‘no-go zone’ for destructive projects.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most richly endowed mineral resources countries. The country is estimated to hold mineral deposits worth at least $1 trillion, mostly copper, gold, nickel, aluminum and chromite. At least 9 million hectares of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares are known to hold high mineral deposits. As of July 2021, nearly 764,000 hectares are covered by mining concessions[1] The Tampakan mining project seeks to exploit one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits. It is estimated that the mine would yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per annum over 17 years[2]

The impacts of the Tampakan project

The mining project is located at the head-water of the Marbel Buluan Watershed, which is a biodiversity hotspot and home to 2,804 streams or creeks surrounding the Roxas and Quezon Mountain Ranges, and a main water source for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. The watershed had no protected status, which makes the commitment of stakeholders to protect the watershed even more significant. The mine would clear around 3,935 ha of old-growth, high-biodiverse forests and arable lands. It would affect five Bla’an Indigenous peoples’ territories and cause the relocation of more than 1,000 Bla’an Indigenous families and affect the livelihoods of more than a million people downstream.

Local and Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of resistance against the mine for years. Although the mine has not been opened, 8 Indigenous people have already been killed.

The signing by the governors of the three provinces of a Memorandum of Agreement for their commitment to protect and conserve the Marbel Buluan Watershed happened after years of campaigning by IUCN NL’s partners Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) and the Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice together with other NGOs, the Catholic Church and the indigenous and local communities in the area. Jaybee Garganera, National Coordinator of ATM, says: ‘The protection of the watershed is a major victory in our efforts towards ecological integrity but also to uphold the dignity of human life, promote our socio-cultural fabric and safeguard the well-being of ecosystems’.

The commitment of the provincial governments to protect the Marbel Buluan Watershed is significant. The watershed is crucial for biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation and the livelihoods of local communities. It provides a range of positive environmental benefits such as water filtration and storage, air filtration, carbon storage, nutrient cycling, soil formation, recreation, food, and timber cultivation. The parties that signed the commitment range from the governors of the three provinces in which the watershed is located, to Catholic leaders and members of local environmental protection offices.

Further reading:

Bottom Line!

With Bottom Line!, a coalition of Dutch and international civil society organizations is working towards a just energy transition with the least possible impact on people and nature. Both in the Netherlands and in the countries where the raw materials are extracted. 

Green Livelihoods Alliance

Through the Forests for a Just Future programme by the Green Livelihoods Alliance, we contribute to more sustainable and inclusive governance of tropical rainforests, in a way that promotes climate mitigation, human rights and preserving the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities.

More information

Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future