MAC: Mines and Communities

A Tragedy That Refuses to Die

Published by MAC on 2003-07-30

Seven years after a catastrophic spillage, two mining TNCs refuse to pay They were found to be responsible for the tragic spillage of mining tailings that turned the historic Mogpog River in Marinduque province into a dead river in 1996. But owners of two TNCs have refused to pay for the river's rehabilitation and the current administration is being asked to exert pressure.

A Tragedy That Refuses to Die

by Dennis Espada,

July 30 2003

The clean-up of desperately-polluted towns and waters of the island-province of Marinduque is experiencing delays as foreign mining companies - the Marcopper Mining Corporation and Canadian-based Placer Dome Inc. (PDI) - have refused to assume the responsibility of paying for the much-needed rehabilitation measures.

Since the spillage over Boac river of millions of cubic meters of toxic mine tailings coming from a drainage tunnel of a copper mining site on March 24, 1996 and several subsequent incidents of disaster, the people are still struggling from the environmental catastrophe.

A New Hope

Geochemist Dr. Aloysius Baes of the environmental research group Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC), together with his five-member team of scientists, led a consultation meeting with local leaders last July 8-10 to assess the province's environmental and health situation, particularly the communities surrounding the Mogpog river, where they took water samples and interviewed local residents.

Dr. Baes noted that hundreds of tons of mine tailings are now lodged in the 16-km river, whose contaminated water, aquatic resources and surrounding land continue to endanger the health of the people and their sources of livelihood.

Local officials said the team's visit gave them a "new hope" in the midst of their people's anxieties and what to them is prolonged injustice.

Earlier on June 9, an American survey team composed of experts from the United States' Geological Survey (USGS), the Institute of Pathology Scientists and the University of Arizona came to the island to begin the Marinduque Environment and Health Study (MEHS). The 18-month-long study, which will cost approximately P20 milllion, will be financed through the social fund of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Horacio Ramos, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has committed the services of their top mining experts to assist the U.S. team.

Beth Manggol of the Marinduque Council for Environment Concerns (MACEC), an organization monitoring the ecological impacts of mining operations in the province, meanwhile, asked if Arroyo will release funds to carry out the remedial measures.

"Sayang naman ang isang pag-aaral na ginastusan ng salapi ng gobyerno na pagkatapos ay wala naman palang mabuting mangyayari" (Financing a study is useless if there are no positive results), Manggol said. Although many Marinduquenos are wary of the U.S. study, Mayor Bert Madla of Boac town has summarized their doubts by saying that, "the USGS study may not reveal the actual situation and the hardships of the people of Marinduque as a result of these mining disasters because most of the documents they are reviewing have been released by mining companies and not by independent institutions."

'Acid Mine Drainage'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines acid mine drainage (AMD) as a "metal-rich water formed from chemical reaction between water and rocks containing sulfur-bearing minerals." AMD is evident from the reddish-orange discoloration downstream. It depletes marine life, contaminates drinking water supply and the food chain with toxic heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.

Even before the inspection, MACEC's Manggol reported a recent "fish kill" where many dead fishes, shrimps and kalapay (small scrabs) were found as having a reddish skin "as if it was cooked in acid." She suspects that this may be caused by AMD.

Compensation and Rehabilitation: A Waiting Game

Marinduquenos are also waiting for the $12 million and the $1 million pledged by PDI for the rehabilitation of the Boac river and for the compensation of toxic-affected people, respectively.

Unmindful of ecological degradation caused by large-scale mining operations, PDI is denying any responsibility for the situation at Calancan Bay near Sta. Cruz town when some 200 million tons of mine wastes were dumped into the vast ocean. It has also disclaimed liability for the bursting of a mine dam at the top of the river in Mogpog town in 1993, causing an outpour of toxic wastes on the river. Right now, at least 75 children in Sta. Cruz town are found to be contaminated with heavy metals, according to Manggol. She appealed to the two mining firms to immediately release the said funds "without conditions" in order to shoulder the victims' medical expenses such as costly detoxification.

Clemente Bautista Jr. of the Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment (KPNE) said the Macapagal-Arroyo administration should show sincerity in addressing the woes of mine-affected people in Marinduque by penalizing erring polluters and stopping the implementation of its National Mineral Policy which, he said, will open the country's natural resources to further destruction.

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