MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Notes to Editor

Published by MAC on 2006-01-15

Notes to Editor

The pristine waters of the Bicol region are acknowledged as the feeding grounds and migratory route of the whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. It is also home to five of the seven known marine turtles in the world, and its rich seagrass beds and mangroves, which make for a high marine biodiversity index, have turned the area into exceptionally rich fishing grounds for the region's fishermen.

The Philippine government allowed Australian firm Lafayette Philippines Inc to start the extraction of gold, silver, copper and zinc within Rapu Rapu in April 2005 despite strong opposition from local and national groups concerned that toxic mine tailings will be released into the sea. The island is a dangerous place for a mine: not only is it situated along the country's typhoon belt, but also along a major fault, making it a high-risk area for mining catastrophes.

During its few months of operation, the mining company showed negligence with regard to its operations. (During the Rapu Rapu Factfinding Commission hearings in April-May 2006, Lafayette officials in fact admitted that they mined "too fast, too soon" even while the mine's structural safeguards meant to minimize environmental damage were not yet completed.) As a result, after heavy rains in October 11 and 31 2005, cyanide and other contaminants from the mine spilled into the sea and around the island, resulting in massive fish kills which Lafayette, to this day, continues to downplay.

In January 2006, Lafayette was fined PhP10.7 million, PhP10.4 million for violating the Clean Water Act, and PhP300,000 for violating the conditions of their Environmental Compliance Certificate. They paid only PhP300,000 initially, and contested the rest of the fine, finally only paying up 6 months later on June 20, when payment for the fine was stipulated as a precondition to the mine's 30-day test run.

The 30-day test run period which was granted to Lafayette by the DENR, and which was given despite the mine's several violations to their ECC, is expected to be a mere prelude to the mine's complete reopening.

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