MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Another Tragedy Hits Rapu-rapu

Published by MAC on 2006-12-04

Another tragedy hits Rapu-Rapu

24 dead as of today Locals, environmentalists pin blame on Lafayette mining ops, Call for urgent relief, rehabilitation and mine closure before death toll rises


December 4, 2006

Twenty-four (24) residents of Rapu-Rapu island in Albay have been reported dead due to sudden landslides and flash floods as of today, with 23 of these fatalities occurring in barangays that are directly adjacent to the Lafayette polymetallic project, initial reports reaching Kalikasan-Peoples Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) revealed.

Reports from project communities of the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils) in Rapu-Rapu tallied 11 residents dead in Brgy. Malobago, 12 in Brgy. Tinup-an, and one (1) in Brgy. Poblacion.

"Brgy. Malobago is classified as a direct impact area of Lafayette's 400-hectare polymetallic mining operation. It is also the site where Lafayette continues to extract sulphide reserves from the Ungay-Malobago orebody through open-pit mining methods," Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista said.

According to initial field reports, Brgy. Malobago was hit by a landslide while Brgy. Tinup-an was hit by flash floods. Kalikasan-PNE and CEC-Phils are currently updating the status of the affected communities.

Bautista described the death toll as "the largest tragedy to hit Rapu-Rapu to date after the two mine tailings spills in October 11 and October 31, 2005 which caused fish-kills and displaced the livelihood of the small island ecosystem's residents, majority of whom are fisherfolks."

The environmental activist leader said that the "massive excavation, denudation, and earth movement incurred in the course of Lafayette's continued open-pit mining operation is one the factors that have contributed to the fatal landslides and flash floods in Brgy. Malobago and Brgy. Tinup-an".

"We have many reasons to suspect that the open-pit mining operations in the Ungay-Malobago desposit and the rest of Lafayette's mining areas have directly contributed to the gravity of the landslides and flash floods that killed at least 24 Rapu-Rapu residents," he said.

Bautista noted that the "grave structural flaws in Lafayette mine's existing dam design seem to have not been corrected by the time typhoon Reming struck". "The first mine tailings dam constructed by Lafayette was 20 meters below the approved design of 190 meters," Bautista said.

"Technical experts on dam structures also noted that Lafayette's dams are under-designed in the light of Philippine rainfall conditions, particularly in high-risk areas such as Bicol which is located in the typhoon belt. This was one of our contentions why large-scale mining operations are bound to fail and be destructive in Rapu-Rapu island," Bautista said. The DENR, however, allowed Lafayette to operate by issuing two Temporary Lifting Orders (TLO) despite the unresolved issue of the dam's faulty structure.

"Lafayette also clearly failed to institute an emergency warning and alert system in case of accidents, spillages and the like, which is also an environmental requisite and explicitly included in the DENR TLO conditionalities. As the death toll implies, there was no sufficient action was done to warn or safeguard the local community against impending environmental threats," Bautista said.

Bautista also voiced out suspicions of a "cover-up on the part of Lafayette and the Arroyo administration due to the lack of a DENR report over the fatalities and the full extent of the structural damage incurred by the Lafayette project".

Bautista stressed the "urgent need to conduct relief operations, implement the full and permanent closure of Lafayette's mine and embark on immediate rehabilitation measures before the death toll rises". ###

Reference: Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator (0928-344-8797)

26 Matulungin St. Central District, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Tel./Fax; +63 (2) 924-8756;

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