MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines: uproar over fish kills

Published by MAC on 2007-11-07

Philippines: uproar over fish kills

7th November 2007

Fishing village under state of calamity over fish kill

By Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer

7th November 2007

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines -- The municipal government of Rapu-Rapu in Albay province placed Barangay (village) Poblacion under a state of calamity on Wednesday morning after residents demanded immediate relief from a fish kill on October 28.

Anti-mining groups immediately blamed Lafayatte Mining Inc. for the fish kill that they claimed endangered the livelihood of thousands of villagers. The mine firm operates an 18-hectare open-pit copper and zinc mine on the island town east of Legazpi City.

Five days after the reported fish kill, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cleared the mining firm of any hand in the fish kill, saying the string of dead fish was found 10 kilometers away from the mine site. But the agency could not establish the cause of the fish kill and has sought the assistance of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in conducting extensive laboratory analysis.

Rapu-Rapu residents, who have been on a protest camp in front of the municipal hall since Monday night, said they were not satisfied with what they called the “lukewarm response” of the municipal government.

Fr. Andres Baliwas, Sta. Florentina parish priest of Rapu-Rapu, said around 2,000 people, or 90 percent of Poblacion’s population, trooped to the municipal hall to wait for the outcome of the legislative session.

“The people had been very emotional. Some cried as they marched because the fish kill has made them poorer and left their children hungry. The fishermen still cannot fish,” Baliwas said in mobile phone interview.

He added that the 20 sacks of rice ordered released by the local government would not suffice for the long-term needs of the people, which was why they were calling for the closure of Lafayette so their livelihood would be protected. Rapu-Rapu Mayor Dick Galicia, in a mobile phone interview, said the state of calamity was only confined to Barangay Poblacion because it was only where the fish kill reportedly occurred.

He said the municipal council first wanted to conduct its own, independent investigation before it passes a resolution urging the permanent stop of the mining operations.

On Saturday, the municipal council agreed to conduct its own fact-finding mission and survey public opinion.

Similarly, the Albay provincial board also did not approve on Wednesday a resolution proposed by Albay Vice Governor Brando Sael urging the DENR to suspend Lafayette’s operation while the fish kill is being investigated. The vice governor also recommended that an independent investigation be conducted by the board and a third party from academe to shed light on the cause of the fish kill.

Provincial board member Celso Aytona, who also chairs the committee on environment, said the board has to deal with the issue carefully since it involves a major investor in the province.

To which Sael retorted with a question: “What revenues does the Lafayette bring to Albay province or to Rapu-Rapu?”

The exchange prompted the majority of the board to decide on an executive session to discuss the issue.

Lafayette, for its part, warned that it would go after saboteurs and those who spread hoaxes.

In a press statement, Bayani Agabin, spokesman of the firm, said they are considering legal options, claiming the latest “fish kill” report is another hoax similar to the one supposedly foisted on Sorsogon residents last year.

Rapu-Rapu probe still on

By Arlie Calalo, Manila Standard,

7th November 2007

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Lito Atienza said yesterday he would not hesitate to punish a mining firm in Albay, if an ongoing investigation shows it was responsible for a fish kill in the province.

But Atienza said in an interview with the Church-run Radio Veritas that a preliminary report conducted by an investigating team showed that the recent fish kill had nothing to do with mining operations in the area.

Atienza made the statement after residents of the island, led by Legazpi Bishop Lucilo Quiambao, submitted a petition expressing alarm over what happened in Rapu-Rapu island where the Lafayette Philippines is engaging in mining explorations.

The mines are about 10 km from the place were a big fish kill was reported after the heavy rain last Oct. 27, Atienza said.

Besides, he said, a check in the area indicated there was no visual overflow of any chemicals coming from the mining sites.

Just the same, Atienza said a deeper investigation will be conducted to double check if the reported fish kill can be linked to the mining operations of Lafayette Philippines.

“We will continue to conduct a thorough investigation and we will not hesitate to punish it [Lafayette], if it will be found responsible,” Atienza said. On the other hand, Quiambao said affected residents of Rapu-Rapu continued with their demonstration in front of the town hall where they reportedly castigated the government’s apparent failure to act on their plight with dispatch.

“There is a continuous demonstration in front of the municipal building of Rapu-Rapu. People now have no livelihood, our social action center is mobilizing to send relief to the residents there,” the Legazpi prelate said. Lamenting the apparent lack of interest in what happened in the town, Quiambao said government agencies, like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, came out with haphazard investigations.

But Atienza said it was not easy for the government to punish a particular mining firm unless an investigation warrants it.

“Besides, we have processes to follow, there are existing laws that give permit for the economic development through the proper management of our natural resources,” he said. “It cannot be prevented by one decision of one local government unit, we have to present our side in the proper forum.”

Green groups challenge Lafayette, Arroyo administration: Open up mine site for investigation into Rapu-Rapu fish kills

Kalikasan-PNE joint press release

30th October 2007

References: Clemente Bautista, Jr. Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator (0922-844-9787)

Antonio Casitas, Sagip Isla Sagip Kapwa, Rapu-Rapu Engr. Virgilio Perdigon, Save Rapu-Rapu Alliance (SARA)

Green watchdog Kalikasan Peoples' Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) today urged government officials to take action on the recent fish kills reported in Rapu-Rapu island, Albay, near the site of the Arroyo administration's flagship mining project by Australian-owned firm Lafayette Mining Limited, asserting that Lafayette should open up its mine site for inspection by an independent investigation.

"Our colleagues and partners from Rapu-Rapu strognly suspect that these alarming fish kills have something to do with Lafayette's continuing operations in the island. If Lafayette has really nothing to hide and is really sincere in getting to the bottom of the fish kill source, it should open up its heavily-guarded mining site and facilities for inspection by an independent probe," Bautista stressed.

"Lafayette's denial is almost the same as the statements it issued refusing any accountability for the October 2005 mine spills. However, their claims were proven wrong by the outcome of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-FInding Commission (RRFFC). The record shows that Lafayette is a liar. The burden of proving otherwise is on them," Bautista said.

Bautista called on Sorsogon-based Senator Francis Escudero and Gov. Joey Salceda to take action on the recent fish kills.

"We call on concerned solons to initiate on a Senate investigation into the repeated reports of fish kills near the Lafayette mine site. We also call on local government officials such as Gov. Salceda to embark on an independent inspection or at the very least, support an independent investigation involving officials from the provincial government, the affected communities, and concerned environmental and fisherfolk groups," Bautista said.

This recent fish kill has affected more barangays in Rapu-Rapu than the October 31 2005 fish kill that happened during a mine tailings spill by Lafayette, Kalikasan PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista said.

The October 31 2005 fish kill, Save Rapu-Rapu Alliance (SARA) Spokesperson Engr. Virgilio Perdigon says, was concentrated in Barangays Pagcolbon and Malobago in Rapu-Rapu island and Prieto Diaz in the adjacent shores of Sorsogon.

This week's fish kill, however, has affected at least five barangays in Rapu-Rapu, starting from Brgy. Pagcolbon and extending to as far as seven (7) kilometers north, up to the port area of Rapu-Rapu. These include the mining-affected barangays such as Pagcolbon and Malobago as well as adjacent areas such as Santa Barbara, Carubcob, and Poblacion.

Antonio Casitas of Sagip Isla Sagip Kapwa, a community-based grassroots organization calling for the pull-out of Lafayette in Rapu-Rapu island, said that the community would be suffering the most from the ill effects of the fish kill.

"The local officials in Brgy. Poblacion have already issued a warning to residents not to eat any fish or catch them for consumption. This fish kill has negative impacts on the people of Rapu-Rapu, who are reliant on the sea and its bounty for our daily sustenance. We have little else to source food except for local agriculture and marine life, which is slowly being poisoned," Casitas said.

Mining-affected barangay hit hardest by Lafayette ills

In addition to the fish kill that has hit Barangay Pagcolbon in Rapu-Rapu, Kalikasan PNE's Bautista also noted that the village has also formally registered complaints related to Lafayette Mining's presence in the area. These include the absence of tap water for the community, lack of validation of Lafayette's social development projects, and militarization in the area.

In a letter addressed to Lafayette Phils. Inc. General Manager for Operations Engr. Roger Corpuz and dated 12 September 2007, Rapu-Rapu Sangguniang Bayan Secretary Allan L. Asuncion noted that Manuel A. Belardo, Barangay Chair of Pagcolbon, expressed his "total dissatisfaction [of] the present scenario happening in [Pagcolbon] because of the inhumane system of [Lafayette]".

Asuncion noted there was already "drought and scarcity or total absence of potable water supply to the residents of Barangay Pagcolbon" and "no proper coordination to the barangay council with regards to the projects of the company being implemented in Pagcolbon".

In the letter, Asuncion noted that in the 10th Regular Session of the Rapu-Rapu Sangguniang Bayan last September 12, 2007, Belardo also expressed apprehensions on the "militarization or presence of civilians with high powered fire arms and uniformed personnel equipped with high-powered firearms without a name tag or any insignia."

A copy of the letter was also furnished to the Office of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay, the DENR Region 5 office, and the Sta. Florentia Parish in Rapu-Rapu "Two years after it started operating, Lafayette has failed to fulfill its promises of prosperity, peace, and plenty to the people of Rapu-Rapu," Bautista said.

National Coordinator Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy, Central, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel. No. +63-2-9248756 Fax No. +63-2-9209099
Email: Website:

Albay governor orders investigation of fish kill

Environmentalists, clergy continue to oppose Lafayette mines

By Manny T. Ugalde and Rhaydz B. Barcia, Correspondents -

31st October 2007

LEGAZPI CITY: Albay Governor Jose Sarte Salceda on Tuesday called for a thoroughi nvestigation into the fishkill that hit five coastal villages of Rapu-rapu allegedly triggered by mine tailings that overflowed from a mining operation in the said island town.

Salceda said his office had asked the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to undertake a thorough investigation of the reported fish kill incidents that happened on Sunday.

As this developed, Lucilo Quiambao, Auxilliary Bishop of the Diocese of Legazpi renewed the call for the mining operations of Lafayette be permanently stopped, which is the stand of the church and the anti-mines groups in the Bicol region. The Albay governor also dispatched his environment consultant to conduct a parallel probe and submit a recommendation as to what action the provincial government should make in order that similar incidents be prevented from happening in the future.

"Facts must be established, as science must rule, but we have to exhaust the full extent of the law to resolved this issue in the best interest of Albay," said Salceda.

He also urged the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, as well as the BFAR to conduct their own investigation and draw up appropriate legislative actions concerning this environmental concern.

The governor called on the people of Albay, particularly those marginalized fisher folks affected by the fish kill, to be vigilant. Fisher folks along the coast of Rapu-Rapu, particularly the barangays of Pagcolbon, Malobago, Santa Barbara, Carubcob and Poblacion following Friday's heavy rains discovered the fish kill on Sunday morning.

Rey Juan, regional director of the DENR Bicol went to Rapu-Rapu on Tuesday to conduct an investigation of the reported fish kill off the shores of Poblacion and Pagcolbon where villagers found 10 to 20 kilos of dead fish.

Barangays Pagcolbon, Malobago, and Binosawan are the sites where Lafayette Mining Corp., an Australian mining firm, operates the Rapu-Rapu Poly­metallic Mining Project.

In an interview over Bombo Radio on Monday evening, Juan said he was surprised when a fish kill happened in Poblacion since it was far-off from the Lafayette mining site.

Juan said they would conduct water sampling in affected areas to check whether toxic contamination was present. Engr. Gilbert Gonzales, EMB regional director admitted to The Manila Times that the Lafayette Philippine Inc., have no rehabilitation fund submitted to his office as of presstime.

"We're still waiting for their office to submit the rehab fund until December," Gonzales said.

Governor Salceda who vowed for a continued protest against Lafayette mining during his last term in Congress, said mining firms have not proven beneficial to host provinces, citing the copper and gold mines in Masbate and Camarines Norte among others. He said the two Bicol provinces remain very poor.

Rev. Fr. Ino Bugauisan, former Rapu-Rapu Parish Priest said the latest incident of fish kill is already alarming and the government should not wait for another disaster to come.

He said the effect of mining operations of Lafayette to the environment and community of Rapu-Rapu is much greater than the limited employment opportunities it is able to provide residents or the little income it brings the town and the province.

The mining operation expects to produce gold, copper, silver, zinc with an estimated gains placed at $350 million over the next three years.

Two years after Lafayette mine spill in Albay: Recurring Rapu-Rapu fish kills cast doubt on Arroyo's mining policies, must be addressed by credible probe and concrete action

Defend Patrimony Press Statement

31st October 2007

Reference: Ms. Trixie Concepcion, Spokesperson, Defend Patrimony Alliance (0918-629-3648)

Exactly two years have passed since Australian-owned Lafayatte Mining Limited induced a toxic mine tailings discharge into Rapu-Rapu's waterways after heavy rains, triggering fish kills that affected the island's coastal communities and beyond.

Ironically, two years after the October 31 2005 mine tailings spill, Rapu-Rapu residents find themselves confronting another massive fish kill. After heavy rains hit the island from October 26 to 28, kilos upon kilos of dead or decaying fish surfaced in the surrounding waterways of at least five barangays (villages), including two barangays directly within the area covered by Lafayette's mining permit.

Island residents strongly suspect that these recent fish kills are connected to Lafayette Mining's continuing operations. The circumstances under which the fish kills occured?heavy rains and the ongoing mine operations which produce and store tons of mine tailings?are very similar to that of the October 31, 2005 incident, the community residents say.

Environmental advocates, Church leaders, and concerned citizens stand by the Rapu-Rapu community's apprehensions. Lafayette Mining is not merely the convenient suspect in this case; it is the primary entity in the island which is historically and technically capable of effecting repeated and widespread fish kills. In an island whose main sources of livelihood are agricultural production of coconut and abaca, fishing, cottage industries, and shellcraft, the open-pit mining project by Lafayette is the only industry that utilizes toxic chemicals on such a massive scale so as to be able to possibly induce a fish kill. Prior to Lafayette's operations in March 2004, almost no or little fish kills were reported in the Albay Gulf region. Now, fish kills are hitting Rapu-Rapu and even the neighboring province of Sorsogon with alarming and fatal regularity.

If the October 11 and 31 2005 mine tailings spills underscore anything, it is this: that the repeated fish kills plaguing Rapu-Rapu island in Albay are both proof and premonition of the ills to come due to the Arroyo administration's rabid national policy of mining liberalization. The Rapu-Rapu mine, which the Arroyo administration dubs as its flagship project for mining liberalization, stands as the most compelling evidence of the destruction, conflict, and degradation that the increase of foreign mining firms in the Philippines will bring about. It stands as a symbol for the continuing plunder of our national patrimony and ravaging of our critical ecosystems that wanton foreign mining firms can bring about.

The Rapu-Rapu fish kills and the Lafayette mining project must be subjected to an independent, credible, and thorough probe and the roots of the recurring fish kills addressed by concrete and long-term action. Rapu-Rapu island, where ninety percent of the population reside in 19 coastal barangays, can no longer afford to be battered by larger and more frequent fish kills. Stopping the root of the fish kills is a matter of life of death, security or displacement, for thousands of families on the island.

We in Defend Patrimony reiterate our calls for the permanent closure of Lafayette's toxic, anti-people, and anti-environment mining project in Rapu-Rapu island. We believe that the island can never have any genuine prosperity, peace, and security for as long as the mine continues to operate.

-- DEFEND PATRIMONY! is a broad alliance comprised of organizations and individuals united in the defense of Filipino people's rights and national patrimony againt the wholesale plunder of our mineral and other natural resources. Our unity is based on the principles of goodwill and solidarity, cooperation and consensus, and independence and initiative.

DENR move to clear Lafayette in Rapu-Rapu fishkill a hasty, prejudiced, and unscientific decision

Kalikasan PNE Press Release

6th November 2007

Environmental advocates today spared no harsh words in denouncing the decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clear Lafayette Mining Limited of accountability for the fish kills which hit at least five barangays in the mining-affected Rapu-Rapu island from October 26 to 28 last month.

"It is hasty, prejudiced, and unscientific for the DENR to suddenly clear Lafayette's name in the Rapu-Rapu fish kills this early. What kind of twisted and befuddled logic would conclude that Lafayette is totally free from accountability when even the DENR itself admitted that it has yet to determine the root causes of the fish kill?," Clemente Bautista Jr., National Coordinator for Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said at a press conference at Quezon City today.

The DENR last week cleared Lafayette as the source of the fish kill even as it has yet to reach a conclusion as to the cause of the fish kills hitting at least two-mining affected villages and three nearby others in Rapu-Rapu. To justify the move, the DENR cited the results of its initial investigation claiming that the water quality in the affected areas was within the "prescribed" levels and that there was no spillage from the Lafayette tailings pond.

"We have to examine these claims by Lafayette and the DENR very carefully. These have yet to be affirmed by an independent and thorough investigation," Bautista said.

"The DENR's monitoring may be limited spatially and temporally, thus giving inconclusive results," added geologist Ric Saturay from the scientists organization Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM).

Saturay also pointed out that the DENR should have also considered scrutinizing indicators of local sea water conditions.

"To verify the effects of the suspected spills, they should study benthic (sea bottom dwellers) organisms which are relatively immobile. The DENR conclusions should have considered prevailing ocean currents and fish migration routes," Saturay said.

"However, the responses from Lafayette and the DENR are arrogant and underestimated the local people's capacity to make scientific observations and conclusions," Saturay said.

Sagip Isla Sagip Kapwa (SISK), the community organization in the island, stands by its account that the fish kills were first observed in Bgys. Pagcolbon and Malobago, the villages at the mine site on October 27 to 28. Tony Casitas, SISK Spokesperson and community leader, said that the fish kills eventually reached the Poblacion that is 7 to 8 km from these 2 villages in Sunday afternoon.

After Lafayette started operations in 2005, it incurred two mine tailings spills in October 11 and 31 2005, causing fish kills in the surrounding villages reaching evn as far as Sorsogon. Rapu-Rapu residents also reported smaller fish kills for the duration of Lafayette's continuing operations in the island, Bautista said.

Bautista said that "the DENR failed to take into account many other crucial factors in their haste to give the toxic and ailing Lafayette a clean bill of health".

"The DENR, for instance, failed to review the impacts of the massive amounts of toxic mine waste being generated by Lafayette for two straight years already," Bautista said.

Citing the contents of Lafayette Mining Limited's Annual Report for 2007, Bautista said that Australian-owned mining company generated more than three million bank cubic meters (bcm) of waste this year as of 30 June 2007 alone.

"This year alone Lafayette mining operation resulted in the removal of 3.298 million bank cubic meters (bcm) of earth materials, producing 3.145 million bcm of waste in the process. This massive volume of waste can bury an equivalent of 7,488 basketball courts in a one meter deep pit of toxic mine waste materials," Bautista asserted.

"During the year a total of 3.298 million bank cubic metres (bcm) of material were moved, including 465,411 tonnes of ore (389,148 tonnes of base metal ore and 76,369 tonnes of gold only ore), and 3.145 million bcms of waste," Bautista quoted directly from the report.

BCM is a unit of measurement commonly used for the volume of waste rock in open-pit mines. One bcm is one cubic meter of material as it lies in natural bank state.

Bautista also noted that the DENR was not able to address the issue of AMD in Lafayette's mining operations. The issue of AMD, or the outflow of acidic mine water from mines, was among the primary environmental issues raised by the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission (RRFFC) against Lafayette due to the level of damage and poisoning of the surrounding marine and terrestrial ecosystems that AMD would bring about.

"The recent fish kills in Rapu-Rapu's five barangays is a persistent reminder that something is terribly amiss in the island ever since Lafayette started its mining operations there," Bautista said.

The fish kill also highlights the government's lack of capacity for timely and effective environmental monitoring of its pet mining projects, Saturay said.

"The mining operations of Lafayette should be immediately suspended pending an independent investigation into the fish kills. Immediate and urgent economic relief and compensation must be delivered by the government to the affected villages in Rapu-Rapu. The national government should also heed the calls of Rapu-Rapu's residents to kick Lafayette out of the island before the damage it is causing becomes irreversible and even more lethal," Bautista said.

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