MAC: Mines and Communities

Missing, Despising Marcopper

Published by MAC on 2006-04-06
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Missing, despising Marcopper

April 06, 2006

By Gerald Gene R. Querubin, Inquirer

WHEN Marinduque Copper Mining Corp. (Marcopper) stopped its operation in 1997, the municipality of Santa Cruz in Marinduque came to a standstill.

Almost 2,500 employees were left jobless, businesses suffered from low sales; some even had to close shop.

The Marcopper mine site is situated at Mt. Tapian in Barangay Kilo-kilo, 12 km away from the town proper.

Municipal administrator Ruby Manay, who also worked as a civil engineer for the mining company from 1994 to 1998, said Santa Cruz dropped from being a first-class municipality (average annual income: at least P35 million) to third-class (average annual income: P21 million-P27 million).

"Records showed that the municipal government almost reached bankruptcy as income plunged downward instantly. When Marcopper was still operating, Santa Cruz used to earn from the income taxes of its employees," Manay said.

"Income from business establishments fell as customers suddenly became scarce and spending became less," she added.

Businesses thrived

Venancio Yu, former president of the Santa Cruz Chinese Chamber of Commerce and owner of one of the oldest grocery stores in town, agreed.

"Since we started our grocery store in 1970, our sales peaked during the 1980s up to the early 1990s. When Marcopper closed in 1997, sales were never the same," he said.

"People spent less and seldom made purchases. Businesses, most especially in the Santa Cruz public market, became slack."

Yu, who is also a former chapter president of the Marinduque Morion chapter of the Philippine Jaycees, said membership in the civic group was high. Many Marcopper employees joined since they could afford the expenses that went with being a member, he said.

In fact, the all-women chapter of the Jaycees of Marinduque, the Copper Queen Jaycees, was named after Marcopper.

But when the mining site closed, the organization's recruitment efforts took a dive.

Social costs

Employees used to have the highest income rate in the province, Manay said.

They and other Marinduqueños enjoyed the use of a hospital with first-class rooms, amenities and medical equipment, and provided with the best doctors in the province.

Their medical expenses were also subsidized by Marcopper.

The employees were provided free housing, water and electricity. Those who wanted to stay in their homes outside the mining community received housing allowance.

Marcopper had its own preschool, elementary school and high school, whose educational standards were patterned after De La Salle University. The schools were among the best in the province.

Tuition of some 1,200 students whose parents were working at Marcopper were subsidized by the company.

The elementary and high schools are still open, but present enrollment is only 250 and students who do not enjoy any subsidy. School administrators and faculty members depend solely on tuition for salaries and school maintenance.

Marcopper used to have a recreation hall, two swimming pools, a clubhouse, a community library, tennis courts, squash courts, a basketball court, and a golf course that could be used by employees and visitors.

Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. had its own branch within the vicinity of Marcopper, but this has since been transferred to the town proper after the mining company closed.

Marcopper's facilities have deteriorated and are now unusable. Some have been ransacked, while others were left without anyone to maintain or manage them.

"The good life that the people of Santa Cruz used to enjoy before is nowhere to be found now," said Manay.

What went wrong?

On March 24, 1996, the rock around the plug in the Tapian Pit drainage tunnel was fractured. The plug consequently failed.

Some 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings were released into the 26-km Makulapnit and Boac rivers in Tapian.

Considered the country's worst industrial pollution disaster, the mine tailings further polluted the Calancan Bay and affected the Boac, Makulapnit and Mogpog rivers and their surrounding communities.

The government closed the mining site following the accident.

Placer Dome Inc., which manages Marcopper, left the country without compensating the people.

According to the Marinduque Council for Environment Concerns (Macec), at least 36 women, children and men died in the Calancan Bay area from "mysterious" diseases.

The deaths were caused by heavy metal contamination from the mine wastes scattered in the area, said Myke Magalang, Macec executive secretary.

"We have to run after Placer Dome Inc., and when we found them in Nevada, USA, a civil case was lodged in that foreign country, a very expensive quest for justice," he said.

Black Friday

Commemorating the incident, thousands of Marinduqueños sporting black shirts and black armbands converged in Boac on March 24 to mark the 10th anniversary of the infamous Boac River Mining Disaster of 1996.

March 24 had been dubbed "Black Friday" in the province after a pastoral letter issued on March 16 by Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista of the Diocese of Boac declared a "Day of Mourning, Unity and Prayer."

As early as 5 a.m., bells tolled in all churches, followed by Masses that recalled the huge losses suffered by the entire province.

In a statement, Macec said that in the 30 years that it hosted large-scale mining projects, Marinduque had remained one of the only seven fourth-class provinces in the country, ranking 14th among the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Magalang said that with a high poverty incidence of 71.9 percent, the plight of Marinduqueños should serve as a wake-up call to other provinces, lest they fall into the trap of "economic miracles" promised by mining projects.

Show of unity

Provincial officials led by Rep. Edmund Reyes Jr., Gov. Carmencita Reyes and five mayors of the six municipalities of the province showed unity in keeping Marinduque mine-free and in opposing the inclusion of the San Antonio Copper Project in Sta. Cruz in the list of mining priority areas of the national government.

Lawyers Walter "Skip" Scott, David Ammons and Reda Dennis, three members of a team of American lawyers representing the province in a case filed against Placer Dome at the US Federal Court in Nevada, joined the commemoration.

The suit seeks damages and just compensation for the province and its people.

The March 24 activity also marked the 30th anniversary of the start of dumping of mine wastes in the Calancan Bay in Sta. Cruz and the 13th year of the collapse of the Maguilaguila Siltation Dam in Mogpog, which resulted in a big flood that inundated the town. Two children died in the floods.

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