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Mine spill no accident, workers tell probe team (15 Nov 05) Philippines High Court rules vs. full fo

Published by MAC on 2005-11-15


Mine spill no accident, workers tell probe team

By Blanche Rivera, Inquirer News Service (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

15th November 2005

http://news.inq7.net/regions/index.php?index=1&story_id=56639

AN INDEPENDENT TEAM INVESTIGATING the spill of wastes from the Lafayette Philippines Inc.’s mining site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay received testimony from the mining firm’s workers that the spill was not an accident.

Workers of Lafayette told the team that they were ordered to release the mine waste from the tailings pond into the sea, disputing an official report that the Oct. 31 mine spill was an accident.

The fact-finding mission, led by the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), yesterday announced it had gathered testimony from more than seven workers who claimed they were instructed to redirect the pipes from the tailings ponds to the creeks, which lead to the Albay Gulf.

“Contrary to reports, Lafayette Philippine’s tailings dam was not the site of an accident last Oct. 31 that caused cyanide leakage, fish kills and health problems,” CEC’s Januar Ong, leader of the fact-finding team, said in a press conference in Quezon City yesterday.

“There was no damage to the dam. Testimonies reveal that mine tailings were released from the main tailings dam to a smaller overfill dam which caused the leakage. This is the truth that the mining company is deliberately concealing in an effort to shield itself from its culpability in the disaster,” he said.

Ong showed a video of a worker in the tailings dam. The worker was drawing the location of the tailings ponds and the pipes that supposedly channeled the mine waste and effluent to the sea instead of the polishing pond.

The polishing pond would direct the effluent to the processing station where the water would be recycled.

Ong said the workers refused to be identified but they admitted that one Saturday before the Oct. 31 mine spill, they were told to bring down the pipes so that these would lead directly to the sea.

“They knew that their dam could not hold the water during heavy rains, so instead of having the dam break, they directed the mine waste to the sea,” Fr. Felino Bugauisan, a member of Sagip Isla, said.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, however, disputed the CEC’s claim, saying there were no structures or pipes that could be moved to redirect the flow of tailings or effluents.

Reynulfo Juan, MGB regional director, said the workers’ claim that they had to channel the pipes from the tailings ponds to the sea was nearly impossible because the pipes were very heavy structures that could not be easily moved.

“That’s not something they can do in just a matter of days,” Juan said in an interview at the MGB central office in Quezon City.

Michael Cabalda, MGB mining and environmental safety chief, said Lafayette would need an entire pipeline system to do what the workers claimed they were instructed to do during the heavy downpour that led to the overflow of the tailings pond.

The MGB showed photos of Lafayette’s system, which included a main tailings pond, a lower tailings pond, two settlings ponds and a polishing pond. These structures show the route of the mine tailings from the detoxification plant.



Letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Enquirer

dated 14/11/05

Dear editor,

This is in reaction to an article that appeared in the PDI with the title, “Mining firm's claim disputed” (PDI, 11/14/05, page A17). We wish to register our agreement with the observations of Dr. Emilina Regis from the INECAR of Ateneo de Naga. In a separate article from the Dow Jones Newswires (INTERVIEW: Spills Behind Philippines Closure – Lafayette, Nov. 10, 2005 http://sg.biz.yahoo.com/051110/15/3wcw6.html) Sec. Michael Defensor was quoted on the record as stating that: “If something goes wrong with Rapu Rapu it would effect the entire mining investment in the country.” A cursory check on the internet shows that Sec. Defensor stated this earlier in a press release titled “Defensor cites importance of mining project in Albay” that can be found on the PIA’s website (http://www.pia.gov.ph/news.asp?fi=p050427.htm&no=1). That same article carries the line: “Defensor said during a press conference … that he wanted the Rapu-Rapu project to … ‘prove to our people that responsible mining is possible."

A big portion of local NGOs have held the belief that safe and sustainable large scale mining in the Philippines is oxymoronic at best and deceptive at worst. And we would like to ask Mr. Defensor what he believes in, now that his precious mine site in Rapu-rapu has dropped the proverbial ball in a big way, spilling cyanide into the waters off Barangay Binosawan, not once but twice in a month.

Lafayette Mining Ltd, the majority owners, claim that they use state-of-the-art mining techniques, yet all this technology is seemingly no match for two days of heavy rains. Imagine then, if that technology were to go up against a seasonal typhoon and a week’s worth of downpour.

The letter-writer in your Letters Section in that same date said it all - "Sooner or later, toxic mine tailings are going to spill and contaminate the water supply and the surrounding sea, and devastate the fishery resources on which most of the poor fisherfolks in the area depend for their livelihood" (Esteban Luis, PDI, 11/14/05, page A16).

What does Mr. Defensor say to that? We challenge Mr. Defensor to dispute the negative effects that the accident has brought forth to the community and to the environment in Albay. What is his department’s reaction to an independent investigation team’s findings that the Lafayette mine has been causing fishkills in the surrounding seas, and turning the waters “chocolate brown” with its dumping of tailings? Why is he not bringing the resources of the DENR and MGB to bear to refute these claims with hard data and clear facts? What will he say to the people of Rapu Rapu who have seen their fish catches plunge? What will he say on the record this time?

We already know what his response will be. We know that under Mr. Defensor, the DENR has bowed down to money and business every time, and whether it has been mining firms or logging firms at the door, the good secretary simply cannot sell out the national patrimony fast enough.

From Rapu Rapu to Samar, from Quezon to Canatuan people already know the answer Michael Defensor will give – “Resume operations. Business as usual.”

Jaybee Garganera
National Coordinator
PhilDHRRA
59 C. Salvador St., Loyola Hts., Quezon City
426-67-40 / 436-07-02
(0927) 911.60.09

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