MAC: Mines and Communities

Rapu Rapu cyanide spill threatens to derail government promotion of mining

Published by MAC on 2005-11-30

Rapu Rapu cyanide spill threatens to derail government promotion of mining

30th November 2005

Even as Philip Romualdez, the President of the Philippines Chamber of Mines, was singing the praises of his government's pro-mining stance at the recent Mines and Money conference in London, that stance was under severe attack at home. The mayor of Rapu-Rapu island, supported by the province's league of mayors, is requesting the revoking of Lafayette's mining permit, following the cyanide leaks at its mine. The government has promoted this mine as a flag-ship project for a new 'responsible' mining industry, and as an editorial in the Manila Times reported this incident seems to be sparking "a resurgent grassroots opposition to the country's mining revival. It is the much-feared rude awakening that comes after a spiel of too-good-to-be-true promises of prosperity for all."

From gold to dust

The Manila Times Editorial

30th November 2005

Trouble is brewing in the Philippines' gold-rush towns, threatening to undermine the government-led mining revival in a country that desperately needs the foreign investments to tap vast mineral reserves and generate revenues aimed at plugging a fiscal gap and bringing down poverty and unemployment levels.

Last week the local government hosting Lafayette's operations announced it would seek Malacañan's intervention to put a stop to the foreign mining firm's activities in the island-town of Rapu-Rapu in Albay province. The province's league of mayors backed up the island-town chief, asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to revoke the mining permit of the first and so far biggest foreign firm to take advantage of a Supreme Court ruling that allowed full foreign ownership of mining ventures.

The Rapu-Rapu council, which earlier endorsed Lafayette's operations, cried bad faith, because the mining company allegedly pushed on with its operations despite the absence of ample facilities to contain mine tailings. Initial findings by the Environment Management Bureau showed Lafayette's dam gave in to the sheer volume of the pollution it generated, thus forcing workers to divert the effluents and contaminate the surrounding bodies of water. Within days of the Rapu-Rapu mayor's turnaround, the Marinduque provincial government announced that it passed a resolution banning foreign mining for the next half-century. This resolution is the latest move of the same LGU that months ago filed a lawsuit before a US court against Placer Dome for fleeing the country before it could complete the rehabilitation of the Philippines' once biggest copper mine.

Indeed, what previously was a faint rumbling from the margins by a hard-line antimining minority is turning into a resurgent grassroots opposition to the country's mining revival. It is the much-feared rude awakening that comes after a spiel of too-good-to-be-true promises of prosperity for all.

Only a few months ago the Philippines hosted a Southeast Asian mining summit, which touted the country as the region's new mining haven. Foreign firms pledged investments running to the hundred millions of dollars, and set their sights on the potential returns from neighboring China's insatiable desire for minerals.

The Philippines boasts as much as a trillion dollars in mineral deposits, which if extracted could generate 240,000 jobs and address an unemployment problem considered the highest in Asia. A mining boom could generate 5 billion to 7 billion in excise-tax revenues alone, allowing the government to keep its budget deficit below a P120-billion ceiling next year.

The growing opposition to foreign mining aroused by the Rapu-Rapu incident may abort all of that, especially if the government behaves as if it were business as usual. The LGU-led opposition may snowball into a national campaign to stop the country's mining revival dead in its tracks.

Almost a month ago, we warned about the consequences of government mishandling the negative externalities of a mining boom. That warning was brought about by a cave-in that left a number of miners dead in another gold-rush town at the Mount Diwalwal area.

Much to our dismay, the environment secretary back then quickly blamed the cave-in on illegal mining in Monkayo town in Mindanao.

To its credit, the DENR has taken a more responsible tack in dealing with the Rapu-Rapu incident. It has suspended Lafayette's operations, and has organized a multisector, fact-finding team to look into the mine tailings spill.

But the task of governance has just begun. The more meticulous and complex job of pinning liability, ensuring compensation and preventing future accidents has yet to be done.

Unfortunately for the government, the stakes are higher this time around. The Rapu-Rapu and Marinduque local officials are making sure of that.

Lafayette looking for funds following delay

Michael Quinn

MiningNews, December 01, 2005

LAFAYETTE Mining has to consider funding options after commissioning of its Rapu Rapu base metals plant in the Philippines was put on hold in the wake of the recent environmental issues that struck the operation.

Lafayette, which said today it had been expecting to begin production from the base metal project this month, now expects to get underway "early in the new year".

The company said the delay was "prudent" as the company ensured all processes and systems were in place to prevent and unforseen events occurring. The company also noted that December is traditionally the wettest month of the year.

Last month Lafayette reported two separate uncontrolled"discharge events" from its adjacent gold operation, the second of which took place following a sustained period of torrential rain.

The Philippines' Mines and Geosciences Bureau subsequently slapped six conditions that needed to be re-addressed before a re-start, with Lafayette "confident that it was close to delivering full compliance".

Lafayette gave no details as to funding requirements or options.

Prior to news of the discharge incidents, Lafayette said it expected its base metal plant to produce 7500 tonnes of zinc, 5500t of copper, 25,000oz of gold and 300,000oz of silver – all in concentrate – by the end of fiscal 2006.

At full capacity, Rapu Rapu will annually produce around 10,000t of copper and 14,000t of zinc – in concentrate – as well as 50,000oz of gold and 300,000oz of silver.

Shares in the company were off 1.5c at 13.5c in afternoon trade.

Lafayette loses $5.5m after Rapu-Rapu spill accident

By Othel V. Campos, Manila Standard (

30th November 2005

Lafayette Mining Ltd. lost $5.5 million after shutting down its mining facility in Rapu-Rapu Island in Albay, Lafayette officials said.

"We are about to decommission the gold ore processing plant anyway, but we are eyeing $6 million in revenues from export activities. However, we have only shipped about a third of our production since we have to discontinue operations due to the pond overflow incident," Roger Corpuz, Lafayette Phils. operations manager, said.

Since Oct. 31 when it temporarily shut down its operations due to mine tailing spills, Lafayette lost about $1.5 million.

Despite the two incident last month, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CMP) supported Lafayette in its drive to thoroughly clean up the affected area and abide by the conditions set by the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences.

"We want to allay fears of both the investors and that of the communities hosting mining activities that all remedial measures are being undertaken to correct the spill-over incident in Rapu-Rapu," CMP chairman Artemio Disini said.

He said Lafayette has conducted the necessary steps to clean up the mess "which is not substantial, by the way, unlike the environmental disaster created by Marcopper in Marinduque a few years back."

"The unfortunate spill incident in Rapu-Rapu is no Marcopper and the incident should never happen again," he said.

The CMP's show of support to the independent audit committee is apparently intended to douse irresponsible mining activities in the country conducted before the enactment of Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

CMP said it is on its toes ensuring that all remedial steps will be done, particularly on the safety and structural capability of Lafayette's tailings dams.

"This incident should serve as a wake-up call for all mining companies. The Chamber would also want to remind the mining industry that we can pursue mining activities in a safe and less destructive manner and that the incident should not prevent other mining companies to invest in the Philippine mining industry," Disini said.

Lafayette water tests tagged misleading

27th November 2005

Bobby Q. Labalan, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau, Inquirer News Service,

SORSOGON CITY-The results of the water analysis conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on water samples taken around the Lafayette Philippines Inc. mining area were misleading, an expert environmentalist and biologist said.

The source, who requested not to be identified, said the BFAR tests focused only on mercury, which was negligible in the area.

BFAR conducted water samplings in 11 locations in Rapu-Rapu and Prieto Diaz towns last Nov. 3 and 4.

Based on the test results, freshwater from the villages of Pagcolbon 1 and 2 and Malobago in Rapu-Rapu and seawater from Bacon shore were within the safety limits while freshwater samples from Binosawan 1 and 2 and seawater from Lupi, Prieto Diaz and San Ramon were dangerously high in metal and other toxic contents.

The same results showed that the mercury content of drinking water from Malobago and the goat fish collected from the same barangay were all within the safety limits.

Lafayette's mining operation does not use mercury, and it was normal that the test results would prove that there was no serious mercury contamination in the area, said the expert.

She said Lafayette might use the BFAR test results to refute claims of water contamination in the area.

The test should have concentrated on the presence of the chemicals cadmium, lead and arsenic, which are being used in the mining operation, the expert added.

Sorsogon City Councilor Dave Duran, chair of the Sangguniang Panlunsod committee on environment, said he would ask BFAR to conduct another examination and to focus on the three chemicals mentioned by the expert.

Duran said BFAR should have patience in doing this as it could mean disaster if not given proper attention.

Meanwhile, the League of Mayors of the province is set to meet Environment Secretary Michael Defensor to voice its strong opposition to the continued operation of Lafayette.

League president Mayor Johnny Guysayko said they have received reports of fishermen who had contracted skin diseases and the same were being attributed to the toxic spill from the mining operation.

Prieto Diaz Mayor Benito Doma confirmed such information, saying a number of fishermen had complained to him of having skin diseases.

Lafayette said it has taken steps to make the mining operations in Rapu Rapu, Albay safer.

But an independent fact finding mission received testimony from some mine workers that the spill was no accident.

Mayor vows to stop Lafayette mining

23rd November 2005

By Blanche S. Rivera. Inquirer News Service -

PROMISES UNKEPT have pushed the pro-mining mayor of Rapu-Rapu Island, site of the P1.4-billion Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project and recently, two mine spills, to seek Malacañang's intervention in closing down the foreign-funded mining project.

Rapu-Rapu Mayor Dick Galicia signed on Monday a municipal resolution asking President Macapagal-Arroyo and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to revoke the environmental copliance certificate issued to Lafayette Philippines Inc.

Galicia said Lafayette had deliberately fooled the people of Rapu-Rapu when it assured them the firm would use the best technology to ensure the protection of the fragile ecosystem of the 5,000-hectare island.

Lafayette also secured tax exemptions, contrary to a promise it had given the municipal government that the mining firm's taxes would give Rapu-Rapu enough revenues to turn it from a fourth class to a first class municipality.

"I used to be pro-Lafayette, but because of what happened to us, I'm going to stand up against it. We will find a way to get them out of the island," Galicia told the Inquirer during an interview in Quezon City Monday.

Galicia said Rapu-Rapu would get only two percent of the gross earnings from the mine operations, instead of the 35 percent in corporate taxes it should have received if Lafayette had not worked to have the island proclaimed as a special economic zone.

He said Lafayette even refused to disclose how much gold it has processed or sold in its four months of operation. Galicia had summoned an accountant of the mining firm who said she did not know the figures.

"When I saw the mine spills, I knew we would get nothing out of this (project)," Galicia said.

The municipal council's resolution expressed "disgust over the anomalous and irregular manner" by which Lafayette accomplished the proclamation of the island as an eco-zone, allowing it be tax-exempt for at least five years.

The resolution would be submitted to the President, the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the DENR, Philippine Economic Zone Authority, and senators.

Rodel Batocabe, president of the Cagraray Environmental Protection and Development Foundation, said Lafayette, a subsidiary of Australian mining giant Lafayette Mining Ltd., was giving Australian mining firms a bad reputation because of what it had done in Rapu-Rapu.

Destroying Rapu-rapu Through Mining

What used to be a haven for endangered species has now become a site for mining operations. The residents call it destruction, but the government calls it development.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN, Bulatlat, Vol. V, No. 41 -

November 20 - 26, 2005

RAPU-RAPU ISLAND - In 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited Rapu-Rapu island (about 600 kilometers from Manila) and said that development will finally happen here at last. How can this be done? She harped on the Rapu Rapu Polymetallic Project as one of the 24 priority large-scale mining projects included in her 10-point program from 2004 to 2010.

Billed as the flagship of the country's revived mining industry, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) projected from it a potential investment and revenues of $42 million and $246 million, respectively. The MGB also said that the government stands to collect an annual excise tax, without incentives, of about $4.2 million.

The project, one of the first new mining ventures approved after 15 years, went into commercial production this year. The company has exported some 4,000 ounces of gold as of October to a refiner in Hong Kong. The project is operated by Lafayette Phil. Inc. with Lafayette NL of Australia, LG Collins and KORES of South Korea.

The Lafayette open-pit mining in Rapu-Rapu has an initial mine life of six years. This is expected to yield around 50,000 ounces of gold annually, 600,000 ounces of silver, 10,000 metric tons of copper concentrate and 14,000 metric tons of zinc concentrate per year, according to the MGB.

Still a fourth class municipality

Mining is not new to the people of Rapu-Rapu, a fourth-class municipality in Albay (Bicol Region).

During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army mined in Barangay (village) Sta. Barbara, with residents working the mines out of fear. After the war, Hixbar Mining Company introduced open-pit and tunnel-type mining in the same area. When the company stopped its operations in the 1970s, it left three of four rivers contaminated and a wide tract of land barren and useless. Since then, residents have noticed a strong and noxious odor of water flowing from the area.

In 1980, Benguet Consolidated, Inc. (BCI) conducted explorations at Ungay Point in Barangay Pagcolbon but left shortly thereafter. Toronto Ventures Inc. (TVI) followed BCI which further explored the same area and established roadways to the site. Spinifex, on the other hand, studied the feasibility of mining operations. However, the company never explored and mined the area extensively.

"Mining has been part of Bicol economic activity for more than a century but the industry remains backward and has hardly uplifted the lives of the local population," said Beverly Quintillan, spokesperson of the Bicol chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) and member of Defend Patrimony!, an alliance opposing the Macapagal-Arroyo administration's mining liberalization program. "Instead, foreign corporations like Lafayette and their government sponsors are the only ones profiting in wiping out our rich mineral resources."

Based on a 2004 study conducted by Dr. Emelina G. Regis, director of the Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research in Ateneo de Naga University, gold mining in Bicol did not alleviate poverty but actually worsened poverty of local communities. She cited what happened in the gold mining communities in Luklukan Sur, Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte and Sta. Barbara, Rapu-rapu island in Albay.

Her study also reported that aside from environmental degradation, pollution and health problems brought about by gold mining operation, residents become poorer when government fails to rehabilitate the degraded ecosystems on which the people depend to eke out a living.

Special economic zone

In May 2004, the President issued Proclamation No. 625 which classified as a special economic zone certain areas of Barangays Malobago and Pagcolbon.

According to the guidelines of the 2004 Investment Priorities Plan, businesses engaged in the exploration, mining and processing of minerals must be at least 60-percent Filipino-owned to qualify for Board of Investments (BOI) incentives. These include an income tax holiday, exemption from taxes and duties on imported spare parts for equipment, tax credits, exemption from wharfage dues and export taxes, and additional deductions from taxable income.

The endorsement of the Rapu-rapu project for ecozone status was first proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry in the wake of the BOI's decision to exclude foreign-owned mining projects from its list of investments qualified for incentives. The BOI's decision happened after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional certain provisions of the Mining Act of 1995 in January 2004, especially those that pertain to financial and technical assistance agreements with foreign investors. But in December 2004, the Supreme Court reversed its own decision and ruled on the Mining Act's constitutionality.

At stake

Rapu-Rapu may have gotten its name from the Bikol word yapu-yapu which means an object that is too distant and scarcely visible. The word also means a distant object floating on the sea which describes the geographical characteristics of Rapu-Rapu which is 55 kilometers from the Albay mainland.

According to the 1995 census, the island of Rapu-Rapu has a land area of 5,589 hectares and a population of 9,132.

Situated north of Lagonoy Gulf, southwest of Pacific Ocean, and east of Albay Gulf, fishing and farming in the upland areas are said to be the primary sources of livelihood. However, the mining for gold, silver, zinc and copper in the area has threatened not only the people's livelihood but also the environment.

In the same study by Regis, Rapu-Rapu was described as a "fragile island ecosystem."

"Eleven rural barangays and the town of Rapu-Rapu are dependent on a limited water supply produced by the watershed of the island. At present, some areas of the forest in this watershed are already denuded, thus endangering the availability of water and worsening the present state of the water supply. With mining, competition between the residents and the mining company for the limited water resource becomes even more serious," it said.

The study added, "Destruction of the island for the sake of few jobs generated from mining activities will result in reduction in the productivity of the land for farming and coral reefs for fishing."

Destruction of ecosystem?

The unique biodiversity of Rapu-rapu may also be destroyed, the study said. Endangered species like the yellow-colored oriole and species of pitcher plant may be found there. Residents have also said that there are large brown-colored bats and a rare mollusk called the golden cowry which may be found in the deeper portions of the coral reef at Malobago and Ungay Points.

The study said that destruction of the coral reefs is possible due to the siltation/sedimentation coming from mine tailings and contamination from released heavy metals or pollutants brought about by acid mine drainage.

Coral reefs supply the needed fishes of the local inhabitants as well as those in the coastal areas of Albay Gulf and Lagonoy Gulf that support the fishery needs of the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon and Samar.

Even the whale sharks' habitat will be affected. The whales have become a tourist attraction in Donsol, Sorsogon and this has helped raise its status from fourth to fifth-class municipality, according to Carina Escudero, a cinematographer and scuba diver.

On March 16, 1994, Miracle Mile Mining Corp. registered with the MGB to explore 2,767 hectares. To date, it has not yet started exploration. On the other hand, Lafayette registered on August 29, 1997 for the exploration of 1,719 hectares. Together, these companies will mine a total of 4,486 hectares which account for about 81% of the island.

Saving an Island

The residents of Rapu-Rapu know fully well the importance of unity in struggle. For six years, they have strengthened their organization, maintaining an unwavering stand to continue the fight against big mining companies. They have even taken their struggle to the Internet.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN, Bulatlat, Vol. V, No. 41 -

November 20 - 26, 2005

RAPU-RAPU ISLAND - For almost 22 years, Nida Bandal worked day and night in Manila just to make ends meet. She decided to return in 2001 to her hometown, Binosawan, Rapu-Rapu Island, here in Albay (about 600 kilometers from Manila).

In her own inherited small piece of land, she started planting rice and vegetables for her own consumption. Almost everyday, she walks on the shore, enjoying the sea's serenity and picking up various kinds of shellfishes for food.

Her living there, however, is far from peaceful as she has chosen to take part in a struggle. She joined Sagip-Isla (Save the Island), a multi-sectoral organization committed to oppose and fight the operations of the mining company Lafayette Philippines, Inc. and other mining activities on the island.

Origins of Sagip-Isla

Sagid Isla was formed on Nov. 7, 1999, after a jubilee forum discussed the implications of mining activities in the island. Held at the Sta. Florentina parish church here, more than 300 residents from different barangays (villages) attended. Religious groups like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the Diocese of Legazpi and other cause-oriented groups supported the forum.

At the forum, the people stressed the need for an organization that will represent the people and express the sentiments of the different sectors comprising the island. They established Sagip-Isla, a community-based organization headed by the church-based Council of Servant leaders in each barangay.

Since its establishment, Sagip Isla members have been conducting education and organizing campaigns in the locality, as well as in the mainland and at national level. The organization has been host to a number of groups doing exposures and immersions in the island communities and at the mining site.

Rapu-rapu residents view documentaries on the ill effects of mining in the Philippines PHOTO BY AUBREY MAKILAN Last Nov. 7, Sagip-Isla celebrated its sixth anniversary. The people gathered for a Eucharistic mass in the plaza. Fr. Felino Bugauisan, assistant parish priest of Sta. Florentina Parish, concelebrated the mass with Fr. Raul Balute, the former parish priest. Behind them was a black cloth painted with the slogan "Save the Island, Save the People! No to Mining!" Even if a police officer was taking their pictures, those who attended were not intimidated.

After the mass, a showing of selected video documentaries was held. Even if it was starting to get dark, the people stayed to watch the video documentaries on social and environmental costs of mining operations in the country.

They could not help booing when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appeared in one of the documentaries. The scene was her visit to their island in 2001 saying, "Uunlad ang Rapu-Rapu," (Rapu-rapu will develop), in reference to the supposed benefits of mining operations in Rapu-Rapu.

Transcending difficulties

Antonio Casitas, 67, now leads Sagip-Isla. Casitas admitted it was not easy to unite the people of Rapu-Rapu. He recalled that during the president's visit, he was actually the one giving out certificates of land transfer to the beneficiaries. He was, however, disappointed to see that the distribution was a sham. After they were given out, he was told somebody would collect them back before the supposed recipients left the stage.

Like Bandal, depressing conditions made him more determined to go on with their fight.

The costly sail of P300 to P700 ($5.50 to $12.82, based on an exchange rate of P54.59 per US dollar) to other parts of the island would often delay their campaign activities. In critical times, they would walk along the shores or sometimes traverse the mountains just to reach other areas.

Even if there was black propaganda labeling his group as subversive and being sympathetic to the New People's Army (NPA), he kept fulfilling his duties. Many times, he would not sign the logbook. Company guards require even residents to log in their names upon entering the area.

"Kung pipirma ako, e di parang sumunod na rin ako sa gusto nila," (If I sign, then it would appear that I am following their orders.) he said

Online struggle

Every arena can be a form of struggle. In the age of cyberspace, the fight against mining in the island has reached the Internet.

In its website at URL, its statement against mining on the island may be found alongside a travel guide and history of Rapu-Rapu.

"Right now in Barangay Pagcolbon, where exploratory drilling is taking place in a 20-hectare lot, environmental destruction is already happening in the cutting of trees, bulldozing and leveling of the hilly and muddy terrain, quarrying of corals, sand, rocks, and gravel" it said.

Aside from calling the attention of the local and national officials, it appealed to all Bicolanos, stating

"The promise of financial benefits now will not compensate the permanent damage of the land, the source of life."

Desperate calls

Bandal was one of those Bicolanos who responded to the call.

"Kahit na bayaran nila ako ng milyon-milyon para sa lupa ko, hindi ko ito ipagpapalit," said the 49-year old old maid. "Kahit na wala akong sarili kong pamilya na paglalaanan ng lupa ko, mas marami pa rin ang nangangailangan sa Rapu-Rapu." (Even if they pay me millions for my land, I will not sell it. Even if I do not have family members who will inherit my land, there are still more people in Rapu-Rapu who need it.)

Bandal admitted that they could not depend on the government to take their side. "Kung sa gobyerno wala na tayong magagawa d'yan, pero tayong mga tao, meron pa kung magkakaisa tayo," (If we cannot do anything with the government, the people can do something if we all unite.) she said.

Meanwhile, a resident who refused to be identified had a more radical take on the issue. "Siguro kung may NPA dito, wala na 'yang mining na 'yan," (If the NPA were here, mining operations would have been gone.) he said.

The man who worked for a mining company somewhere in Northern Luzon recalled that when the people in the nearby area protested the operations of the firm, the operations were immediately stopped when the NPA intervened, he said.

"Kung may kilala lang akong NPA papupuntahin ko pa dito yun para lang mawala na 'yang Lafayette na iyan," (If I know someone from the NPA, I would have asked him or her to come here so that Lafayette would be gone) he stressed.


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