MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining: Civil Society View (3)

Published by MAC on 2006-12-30
Source: Manila Times

Mining: Civil society view (3)

NATURE FOR LIFE - By Anabelle E. Plantilla, Manila Times

30th December 2006

It can be said that if the Philippine Mining Act is not ignorant of reality, then perhaps it is ignorant of history. The greatest mining disaster in the country and one recognized globally as an atrocious act displaying the height of both callousness and ineptitude, was Marcopper's.

It was the result of years of neglect and cost cutting that resulted in the collapse of a tailings dam and the subsequent environmental devastation of a river system and its attendant environs. But even that is ignorant of history. Once Placer Dome Canada, Inc., the foreign company that owned 39.9 percent of Mar­copper-operating under the 60/40-ownership rule-fled the country to avoid litigation and fines. Marcopper's history was scrutinized closely.

It came to light that the local owner of Marcopper had been, until his own exile, former President Ferdinand Marcos. As both president and dictator, Marcos used his power to sanction Marcopper's cost-cutting operations.

Chief among the behaviors he allowed was the dumping of tailings directly into Calancan Bay, and allowing the use of force and government agents to stifle protests from fisherfolk who saw their primary fishing grounds devastated. This was done for no reason other than to maximize the company's profits, which he was a primary beneficiary of.

Marinduque's story is a relatively well-known one. There is no need t rehash it in full but it is a story that demands a mention in any discussion about mining. It is important because it is a source of national shame and national outrage. Or it was, at one time. The backlash of Marinduque helped solidify civil society against mining companies in the nineties, contributing to their near death. As was stated in the introduction, the timing of the disaster hamstrung the Mining Act.

In the face of images of the villages drowned in toxic mud, the Mining Act's supporters back­pedaled. Their pleas for open-minded­ness fell on the ears of a deaf public, a situation exacerbated by the literal escape of Placer Dome Canada from the country along with its assets.

The most telling moment in the country's mining history is the lack of justice for Mar­copper. Marcopper has paid minimal amounts to the affected people. Placer dome has so far escaped responsibility, despite being chased abroad by the local government unit of Marinduque and hit with a hundred-million-dollar lawsuit.

Furthermore, a decade after the disaster, the steps taken to rehabilitate the environment have been next to nil. The Boac River and Calancan Bay are both clogged by mining tailings, a point that the government readily sidesteps in all discussions about responsible mining and the duties of the DENR. There are no plans to "fix" the area. It may never be rehabilitated in this generation.

Ma­rinduque has been left to its own devices, a curiosity for foreign scientists to study.

But again, it has been ten years. Why is Marinduque always referenced? Why can't we simply move beyond it and accept that mining has moved forward, that technology will cure our ills?

Simply put, because Marin­duque and the Marcopper disaster are the microcosm for mining in the Philippines. In their situation one can not only find echoes of what is happening today, but predictions for the future of mining in the country. When we look at Marinduque, the realities of Philippine mining are all too apparent.

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