MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Denr-bicol Set To Decide On Fate Of Mining Company

Published by MAC on 2006-11-15
Source: Manila Times

DENR-Bicol set to decide on fate of mining company

Rhaydz B. Barcia, The Manila Times

1st November 2006 RAPU-RAPU, Albay

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bicol will decide within two weeks time whether Lafayette Philippines, Inc. will resume its regular mining operation after the two-month test run.

Rey Juan, MGB-DENR regional director here, told the congressional committee investigating the Lafayette operation on site that the department should be ready with a decision by then based on studies it made.

The committee, led by Rep. Jose G. Solis, chairman of the Committee on National Defense and vice-hairman of the Natural Resources secretariat concluded its investigation on Friday.

The comprehensive report on the Lafayette operation will be submitted to Secretary Angelo Reyes and Congress within two next two weeks, said Juan, adding that favorable improvements were observed.

Roger Corpuz, LPI senior vice-president for operation, said that several remedial measures were adopted and developed to prevent any untoward incident like waste tailing spills.

"When the waste tailings overflowed on October 11 and 31, 2005, the dam height was only 1.24. The new waste tailing now could accommodate around 740,000 cubic meters with its final upper clay core at 145 mRC," Corpuz explained. "A piezometer, an instrument that measures the water level, and monitoring pins, a gadget that monitors the movement of water within the surface as well as emergency alert signal for residents were also installed, which resulted in a more efficient performance."

At least three rock dams at Pagcolbon creek and a catchment's basin for trapping and absorbing metals for further treatment before releasing the water into the sea were also constructed.

On July 10, Reyes gave Lafayette Philippines Inc. the go-ahead to conduct a 30-day test run after having complied with conditions set by the department. The test run was extended for another month, which will end on November 8.

Congressional investigation

Officials of Lafayette Philippines Inc. showed Representative Solis and members of the congressional natural resources secretariat, along with media men, the various improvements within the mine site.

"I wanted to see the mine site personally rather than rely on documents," said Solis. "We brought along media men from Bicol so that the investigation would be transparent. Our investigation is very objective, technical and legal."

When asked what his assessment was of the new setup in the mining firm, Solis told The Times he will wait for the report of the DENR and examine the company's environmental safety standard profile to countercheck the data before coming up with a final decision.

On October 5 Bishop Arturo Bastes, who headed an independent commission tasked to investigate the Rapu-Rapu mine spill that affected marine life in the area, issued a statement saying that the local church in the Bicol region laments the continued existence and operation of Lafayette Philippines, Inc.

"What we have witnessed is environmental plunder rather than economic development. The worst impact of open-pit mining far outweighs its supposed gains," said the bishop. "We Bicolanos have witnessed the devastating effects of irresponsible mining on the economic life of the people and the adverse consequences of the mine spill on the fragile biodiversity of the Island."

Responsible mining

But Jesus Varela, bishop emeritus of Sorsogon, said that the new Filipino management must be given a chance to conduct responsible mining. Varela, who served as prelate in Sorsogon province for 18 years, was the only top official of CBCP Bicol chapter who supported responsible mining.

A couple of months ago, the prelate visited the mining site in Rapu-Rapu to check if the risks of mining in the island town can be avoided and substantially mitigated. Varela then said that he went to check out Lafayette's Rapu-Rapu project to see if the situation there was consistent with responsible mining, as well as personally observe the conduct of the test run. His concern was to find out if the company had learned its lessons from previous mistakes.

"The test run is critical for three reasons such as to demonstrate if the company has complied with all conditions for responsible mining, to show whether the objections of antimining groups to the company's continued operations were valid and to prove if the government is capable of strictly enforcing and monitoring the compliance of the company with all relevant laws and environmental conditions." Varela pointed out.

He said that mining is inherently risky but it can also provide substantial benefits, especially to the poor and less privileged in the countryside.

The prelate explained that the final decision on the fate of the company would be made by the DENR as the legally mandated agency of the government. That decision will be based not on mere speculations and hearsay but on careful studies made by experts as well as on scientific data obtained through a transparent, closely monitored and credible process.

Residents of Rapu-Rapu as well as local government officials were now pushing for the continuous operation of Lafayette. Town councilmen Mariano "Quaky" Bolaños, Jovanni Guapo and Mariano Baranda told The Manila Times that they're supporting the continuous operation of the mining firm after it has substantially complied with the DENR's conditions.

"Before we contested the operation of mining here but after the new management has remedied the situation, we think the mining operation can continue provided that the PEZA exemption given to the firm be revoked in order people to be able to benefit from its taxes." Bolaños told The Times.

In November 2005 the government suspended the operation of Lafayette Philippines Inc., following a series of toxic spillage on October 11 and October 31, which affected the waters off Rapu-Rapu town in Albay and Prieto Diaz in Sorsogon province.
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