MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Lafayette’s 30-day test run - A Simple Gimmick?

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

Lafayette’s 30-day test run - A Simple Gimmick?

The government’s decision to allow a mining company to have a 30-day test run angered the members of a fact-finding commission that found Lafayette negligent and responsible for the mine spills that happened in October. According to them, the decision shows the administration’s bias for transnational mining corporations.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN, Bulatlat - Vol. VI, No. 19

June 18-24, 2006

Nothing but “a simple gimmick.”

The Rapu-Rapu Fact Finding Commission (RRFFC) used this phrase to describe the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) decision to allow a mining company’s 30-day test run.

RRFFC’s Dr. Aloysius Baes said that the test does not actually involve Lafayette Processing, Inc (LPI) environmental capability, especially on major issues like acid mine drainage (AMD) or containment of mine wastes. Baes said that these cannot be tested in just 30 days.

Baes also said that the decision was not surprising, considering that DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes previously said that only an accident similar to the October mine spills would make him change his mind.

As a result of the DENR’s decision, Defend Patrimony (Movement Against Mining TNCs and Plunder of Resources), a group against large-scale mining, demanded the resignation of Reyes as DENR secretary.

Baes said that the DENR’s decision shows the bias of the administration’s economic advisers for mining transnational corporations (TNCs). Baes added that Reyes seemed to balance things at first.

A June 16 press release of the Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Agham or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) noted that the DENR found, among others, that “the mine spills in Rapu-rapu were preventable.” However, it was also established that “Lafayette was guilty of lapses” and that it “does not measure up to standards of a responsible miner.”

The DENR also admitted that it “failed to adequately monitor the Rapu-Rapu operations and (t)he sharing of benefits from the mining operations is grossly unfavorable to the Philippine government.”

“Kaya nga medyo skewed, walang logic ‘yung conclusion,” (That is why the decision is a little skewed, the conclusion has no logic.) Baes said.

There were reports that experts, including Baes, would be invited to observe the 30-day test run. This early, Baes who has not yet received any invitation from DENR said that he will not participate.

“Collective dismay”

The RRFFC also expressed their “collective dismay” over the DENR decision in a manifesto last June 16. “We do express a profound sadness that the DENR made the attracting of foreign investments its new mandate.”

The manifesto, however, was not signed by RRFFC member Greg Tabuena. Earlier, he said that he “cannot, with a clear conscience, conclude that the commission has been fair to all interested parties and that the report was indeed an impartial and objective one.” He also said that no connection had been established between the Rapu-Rapu mining spills and the fishkill in Sorsogon (600 kms southeast of Manila).

Baes said that Tabuena is being “insincere and dishonest.” He stressed that Tabuena was the one who suggested to look at LPI’s economic and financial aspect. “Ngayon ko lang naisip na siguro sinabi niya ‘yon para ma-off set ang environmental at health issues,” (Perhaps he said that to offset the environmental and health issues.) he said.

Small-scale mining

The manifesto also disagreed with the DENR’s claim that revoking LPI’s environment compliance certificate (ECC) would mean the entry of “small-scale miners who are likely to use mercury in their extraction of gold.”

Unlike in other mining areas like Mt. Diwalwal in Compostela Valley where gold nuggets can be extracted, Baes said that Rapu-Rapu has lost much of its gold last year.

“Walang small-scale miners na susubok magmina dito dahil mahirap ang proseso ng pagtanggal ng maliliit na amount ng ginto sa copper at zinc ores,” (No small-scale miners will try to mine here because it is hard to extract small amounts of gold from copper and zinc ores.) said Baes.

Fr. Felino Bugauisan, assistant parish priest of Rapu-Rapu and chair of Sagip-Isla (Save the island), for his part called on the military in Rapu-Rapu to leave because the people are afraid of them. Sagip-Isla is a multi-sectoral organization opposed to mining operations in the island off Legazpi City in Albay (550 kms southeast of Manila).

Local strength

Even then, neither the military intimidation nor government decisions favoring LPI would weaken the resolve of the anti-mining Rapu-Rapu locals and their advocates. Bugauisan said that about 20,000 people protested the DENR decision in Legazpi City on July 15.

Bugauisan said that they are planning to file criminal cases against LPI for the effects of their operations on the environment and the people’s health. He said that fisherfolk used to place their improvised fish shelter near the shore. But after the mine spills, they now need to go to the middle of the sea just to put their fish shelters.

On the other hand, they will file administrative charges against Sangguniang Bayan (SB, town council) members who allegedly signed LPI’s memorandum of agreement. Bugauisan said an SB member told him that P150,000 ($2,824.06, based on an exchange rate of P53.115 per US dollar) was offered for those officials who would agree for the resumption of the company’s mining operations. Bugauisan added they would include Reyes if found conniving with LPI.

Bugauisan said a week after the RRFFC report was released, Reyes went to the LPI office on the island and asked the people there to reveal the identities of those who were against the mining operations. “Sinong magsasalita dun? Nakakatawa naman,” (Who would speak there? It is so funny.) Bugauisan said.He added a source texted him that people were given money, about P200-P300 ($3.76-$5.65) each, by the company.

Resolved

Meanwhile, the manifesto stressed that the “report can speak for itself and neither the DENR review nor personal attacks against Commission members can diminish the veracity of our findings and conclusions.”

Baes said that there are senators who expressed interest in availing of their services to study other mining areas. Their evaluation of Rapu-Rapu and other mining operations in the country, would be used for the review of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. He expressed willingness to help, if only to give “more credibility to the call for a review of the mining act.” Bulatlat

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