‘This recent dam failure in Padcal proves that large-scale mining operations clearly contribute to the increased vulnerability of communities to disasters.” – Kalikasan Partylist
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Aside from heavy rains and typhoons, residents in the north have to contend now with fears of toxic contamination of their water system. Since last week, mine tailings have spilled downriver from the tailings dam of Philex Mining, the mining company that advertises “responsible mining.”
Despite the spill, Philex’s interests lay in continuing its mining operations as soon as practicable. Philex operates the largest gold mine in the Philippines. Its reported revenues from sale of gold amounted to P4.071 billion (USD 97.1 m) from January to June this year, down from last year’s P4.401 billion (USD 105 m).
It attributed the decline to reduced gold output, from last year’s 72,784 to 58,681 ounces this year. Philex said last week that they have begun to see some recovery in grade and total output of gold since June. They expect gold production volume to be better this second half.
Philex’s Padcal mining facility in Benguet, whose tailings pond broke last week, is currently its only operations. The company blamed the dam break on heavy rains brought about by recent typhoons.
The resulting “massive spilling of tailings from the Padcal mine operations of Philex Mining” in the north, near Baguio City, has prompted the environmental political party Kalikasan Partylist to call for the immediate suspension of operations of “all mine sites.” The party demanded a full review of safety measures for tailings dams in all mining operations, in light of more storms expected to hit the Philippines this year.
The government suspended this Monday Philex’s mining operations. The company’s Padcal facility in the north will reportedly remain closed until a government inquiry determines the extent of the spill and why it happened, said Leo Jasareno, head of Mines and Geosciences Board.
The investigation would last at least a week and will examine whether any toxic substances had leaked from the mine, Jasareno was quoted as saying. But this early, government scientists reportedly concluded that the spill did not reach the Agno River, a major river in the north, and nearby San Roque Dam. Philex also denied that the spillage were toxic.
‘Dam failure illustrates folly of mining liberalization’
‘This recent dam failure in Padcal proves that large-scale mining operations clearly contribute to the increased vulnerability of communities to disasters,” said Frances Quimpo, secretary general of Kalikasan Partylist. She said it also proves that President Benigno Aquino III’s EO 79 on mining “is patently anti-environment and anti-people, as it validated all mining contracts and projects including these operations that have proven hazardous.”
The recently passed EO 79 was criticized by environmental advocates, including the Kalikasan Partylist, for “still maintaining pro-foreign and large-scale mining provisions and lacking substance in terms of environmental protection and people’s welfare.”
There are 30 large-scale metallic mines and at least 21 abandoned mines across the Philippines in which dam failure can occur, like in Philex Mines’ Padcal facility. “The people cannot rest assured when even Philex, regarded by its fellow industry giants as among the most environmentally-safe mining operations, experiences tailings spills during typhoons,” said Quimpo.
“All mining operations in the Philippines must be put on hold until a full inspection of all tailings dams and the necessary improvements that the investigation will identify is implemented,” Quimpo added.
Kalikasan notes that the Philippines has had a long history already of mining disasters. At least 21 mine tailings dam failures had been recorded in the past 25 years in the country.
Quimpo urged all mining-affected communities to monitor mining operations that can possibly experience dam failures. She asked them to formulate contingency measures in response to possible spilling.
On the policy level, Kalikasan Partylist pressed for the passage of HB 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill. “It is needed now more than ever to ensure the highest environmental standards in the management and regulation of the mining industry,” said Quimpo.
The People’s Mining Bill (PMB) or HB 4315 was filed in 2011 by Rep. Teddy Casiño with other progressive lawmakers. It aims to reorient the mining industry towards domestic economic development, environmental safety and the industrialization and nationalization of the mines sector.