“Kasian, rakyat, anak cucu kita, bakal jadi korban nantinya akibat limbah pengolahan emas itu. Apapun yang terjadi Saya tetap bersama rakyat untuk menolak tambang tersebut.” – Helmud Hontong (1962 – 2021) 

On Wednesday (09/05), the Vice Regent of the Sangihe Islands, North Sulawesi Province, Helmud Hontong, died tragically of coughing and bleeding on the plane while flying from Denpasar to Makassar on Lion Air JT-740.

Helmud Hontong became a figure admired by the public because he rejected gold mining activities by PT Tambang Mas Sangihe.

The Story

Helmud Hontong has served as the Vice Regent since 2017. Since then, he has strictly rejected gold mining activities.

Before he set foot on the plane and died in the air, he made a letter requesting the cancellation of the gold mining operation permit covering an area of 42,000 hectares to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. He even went on a safari alone to deliver the Rejection Letter. 

Starting from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and the Office of the Presidential Advisory Council (Watimpres) in 24 hours.

Helmud Hontong wrote in his letter, "I am strictly against the existence of PT Tambang Mas Sangihe operating in Sangihe. Whatever the reason. I stand with the people. Because the people believed in me to become the Vice Regent."

The Regent of the Sangihe Islands, Jabes Gaghana, stated that he had also refused to issue a mining business permit for PT Tambang Mas Sangihe since 2017. Reporting from CNN, the letter sent by Helmud Hontong was on a personal initiative. 

Although he had refused, Jabes said, the Sangihe Islands Regency Government could not do the same. The reason is, after the mining permit from the government is issued, it must follow the provisions.

"We are not taking a further (advanced) stance because we are the government. When the central government has agreed and issued a permit, it is impossible for the district government to disagree with the center. To fight against the central government, administratively it is a violation of the law; it does not mean we agree." Jabes said.

According to Jabes, the PT TMS permit has been in process since 1997, while the official permit to exploit the land will only be issued in 2021. The first party to issue the permit, he said, was the Provincial Government of North Sulawesi.

Bob Priyo Husodo, Manager of PT TMS, stated that there was a "politicization" of Helmud Hontong's death case. Bob also said that the mining activity had received support from the local residents, "The people who protested were immigrants, so we invited the village community. 

There were witnesses from residents to village officials. We are clear, and they are supportive." In fact, the local community created the Save Sangihe Island movement, which consisted of 25 community organizations that continuously voiced their protests.

Environmental Damage

The gold mining activities planned by PT TMS, apart from having great potential to damage the environment and eliminate water sources, also threaten the extinction of dozens of endemic and endangered animals in the Sangihe area.

Seriwang Sangihe, or often referred to by local people as manu' niu, is an endemic bird on Sangihe Island. This endemic bird was considered "extinct" for a hundred years, until about 20 years ago, when they were seen again.

Besides the Seriwang bird, there are nine other endemic bird species, Anis-bentet Sangihe, Paok Merah Sangihe, Serindit Sangihe, Burung Madu Sangihe, Celepuk Sangihe, Raja Udang Sangihe, Udang Merah Sangihe, Kacamata Sangihe, Brinjji Emas Sangihe. Out of all the ten birds, five of them are in critical condition, and the rest are vulnerable.

Mining activities will also damage the protected forest area of Mount Sahendaruman, which is the habitat of the endemic species of Sangihe Island and also a source of water for the community. In addition, Sangihe Island is an earthquake-prone area and has three active volcanoes that make this area prone to disasters.

To help local Sangihe residents fighting against the PT TMS, you can follow the information on Instagram @save.sangihe and sign the petition. The death of Helmud Hontong is a reminder for all of us that we have an enemy far more powerful and evil than we imagine.