MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Greenpeace Worker Arrested In Rapu-rapu

Published by MAC on 2006-07-26

Greenpeace worker arrested in Rapu-Rapu

By Nonoy Espina,

26th July 2006

GREENPEACE Southeast Asia (GP-SEA) protested what it described as the illegal apprehension, detention, and harassment by police of an employee of the environmentalist group that was collecting water samples from a creek near the controversial Lafayette mine site in Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay province, on Tuesday.

GP-SEA campaigns director Von Hernandez said David Andrade, who works with the group's campaigns department, was at Rapu-Rapu to "validate recent reports of a fish kill which occurred in the area last week, and which Lafayette claims to be a case of sabotage."

Last week, Lafayette claimed unidentified persons dumped pesticide into a creek near the mine site and later sent text messages announcing a toxic spill had occurred and was killing marine life.

An Inquirer report at the time quoted Lafayette spokesman Julito Sarmiento as calling the incident "sabotage to scare people and is no different from the mercury hoax anti-mining and leftist groups carried out early this year."

The firm's operations were suspended late last year after mining spills killed marine life. However, on July 11, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) allowed Lafayette to undergo a 30-day "test run" that critics said was a prelude for the complete resumption of operations of the controversial mining firm.

Hernandez said two policemen "invited [Andrade] at gun point for questioning at Pagcolbon's town hall where he was allegedly harassed by police, military, and several private security personnel who wore no proper uniform nor identification, and who refused to identify themselves."

The area where he was collecting samples was "unfenced public land," Hernandez stressed.

Andrade was then "illegally searched, his water samples and sampling sheets confiscated, and was escorted by armed policemen to their detachment in Rapu-Rapu town" without saying on what charge he was being held.

Hernandez said the incident and the "heavy police security deployed to protect Lafayette's operations" belied the firm and DENR's claims of "full transparency" of the mine operations, particularly during the test run.

"Rapu Rapu Island today, even public areas outside the boundaries of Lafayette mine, is apparently a high security zone, tightly guarded not just by the police and military, but also by private security personnel," Hernandez said.

"Monitoring and inspection by independent parties concerned about the negative effects of the mining operation is heavily discouraged and even prevented. "He accused the government of protecting Lafayette "regardless of the consequences it would inflict on the island's surrounding marine environment and the communities who benefit from these seas."

"Instead of defending a mining operation which is damaging and detrimental to the island's fragile marine ecosystem, the DENR should stay true to its mandate of upholding our citizens' rights to live in a safe and healthy environment," Hernandez said.

"The public has a right to know what real impacts Lafayette's mining operations have on the environment, and that right should never be thwarted by police and military harassment, especially in the service of myopic corporate interests," he said.

The waters of the Bicol region are acknowledged as the feeding grounds and migratory route of the whale shark, and home to five of the seven known marine turtles in the world.

Its rich sea grass 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.

Greenpeace maintains that Rapu Rapu 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."

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