MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Marinduque still a mining site despite 1996 disaster

Published by MAC on 2006-03-25

Marinduque still a mining site despite 1996 disaster

by The Philippine Star

25th March 2006

It was Black Friday in Marinduque yesterday as residents of the island marked the 10th anniversary of the infamous Marcopper mining disaster, which wrought havoc on the pristine waters of Boac River.

But despite the protests of black-clad residents who marched in a caravan to the capital, the government continues to include the area in the country's list of mining priorities.

"The inclusion shows the national government's insensitivity and callous disregard of the plight of those affected and those who continue to suffer as a result of the disasters caused by large-scale mining," Marinduque Rep. Edmund Reyes lamented yesterday.

The young lawmaker revealed that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has included San Antonio copper project in the list of "23 mining priority areas in the country."

In expressing the sentiments of the local communities, Reyes said Marinduquenos still feel the pain brought by the tragedy, which damaged the environment and adversely affected their livelihood, not to mention its impact on their social and health status.

Thousands of Marinduquenos, who have been crying out for justice, wore black shirts and armbands yesterday while carrying black banderitas as they flocked to the capital through a circumferential caravan coming from all the municipalities of the island.

"It was a day of mourning, unity and prayer in the entire province to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Boac River mining disaster of March (24) 1996," Reyes said in a statement.

2006 is also the year, according to him and his governor-mother, Carmencita Reyes, marking the 30th anniversary of the dumping of mine wastes at Calancan Bay in Sta. Cruz and the 13th year of the collapse of Maguila-guila siltation dam in Mogpog town.

"Today, we are one in prayers and action as we commemorate these tragic events to strengthen Marinduquenos' resolve in our collective struggle to seek justice for the people and the environment," Bishop Rey Evangelista said.

Rep. Reyes also expressed confidence that the provincial government will win the case it filed October 2005 in a Nevada court, launching a "landmark suit" against Canadian mining firm Placer Dome, which dumped mine tailings in a large part of the province 10 years ago.

"Our case is rock solid owing to world-class objective evidence from some of the best international environmental, engineering and health experts," he said, citing the help they got from the US, Australia, congressional testimonies and from UP and Ateneo.

Reyes said the province is seeking at least $100 million from Placer Dome for the rehabilitation of areas, including rivers, damaged or silted when a large mine waste dumpsite collapsed, discharging thousands of tons of toxic wastes in low-lying areas.

He said the Canadian firm should also pay for "economic damages," including compensation for lost properties and income opportunities of the people affected, and for health problems caused by the toxicity of the mine tailings.

"If this case prospers, it will send a clear signal to all multinational corporations doing business in the Philippines to think twice about damaging our environment and risking our health. Although they can run away, they won't be able to hide for long," he stressed.

Reyes said the province sued Placer Dome in Nevada because the company has three major mining operations there. Placer's Nevada investments total more than $1 billion and accounted for 17 percent of its more than $6 billion in revenues in 2004, he added.

Lawyers Walter Scott, David Ammons and Reda Dennis, who are among the team of American lawyers representing the province in the case, joined Marinduquenos in marking the disaster.

Scott said Placer Dome filed a motion to dismiss last March 1 following several requested extensions. The basis for the motion, he said, was related to personal jurisdiction and forum non-convenience.

Meanwhile, the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC) pointed out that in the 30 years of hosting large-scale mining projects, Marinduque remains one of only seven fourth-class provinces in the country, and ranked 14th poorest province in the Philippines.

The council also said that Marinduque's forest is the third most denuded, and that the province's poverty incidence was at a high 71.9 percent.

Miguel Magalang, executive secretary of MACEC, said that these figures should serve as a reminder to the national government and a wake-up call to other provinces to avoid falling into the trap of "economic miracles" promised by mining projects, especially with the current administration's thrust to revitalize the mining industry in the country.

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