“There are actual experiences and technologies available that demonstrate how Philex can decommission the tailings dam without resuming its mining operations.” – Kalikasan PNE
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Green groups condemned yesterday the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for allowing the Philex Mining Corp to restart operations and reuse the company’s damaged Tailings Storage Facility No. 3 (TSF3), otherwise known as Tailings Pond 3, in Padcal, Benguet. They picketed and threw mud at the gates of MGB.
“We cannot comprehend how a supposedly environmental bureau has seen it safe to operate a compromised mining structure and trust Philex which has a long record of mining disasters and environmental violations,” said Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista.
The green groups dismissed as pure hogwash MGB’s “excuse” that the operation of Philex is needed to rehabilitate the tailing dam. “There are actual experiences and technologies available that demonstrate how Philex can decommission the tailings dam without resuming its mining operations,” Bautista said. They suspected that the MGB go-signal is a “precursor for the full operation of Philex using TSF3.” They warned that it will subject our communities and environment to great disasters.
On Feb. 26, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo L. Jasareno signed an order saying “Philex Mining Corp. is hereby authorized to resume operation in order to undertake urgent remediation measures for Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) No. 3 under its proposed Rehabilitation and Clean-Up Plan.” MGB gave Philex four months.
MGB said the operation is allowed so Philex can remove the water inside the damaged TSF3. Removing the water is said to be necessary to rehabilitate the tailings dam. A total of 3.5 million metric tons (MMT) is needed to fill up the dam and remove the water.
In a report, the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) shared the results of an environmental impact mission into rivers directly hit by Philex’s minespill. It said that the formerly Class A Balog river has become polluted – the trees have been wiped out, the fishes, algae formerly living there are no longer there. They noted that the surface water is oily. The community also reportedly told them there is a “chemical smell in the Balog river.” Environmentalists also reported they saw thick sedimentation at the confluence of Balog and Agno.
Representatives of Philex taunted the environmentalists who conducted this investigation, suggesting the investigators, which included engineers, are not “technical” enough, or their report may not be true.
But according to Virgilio Aniceto, an Ibaloi engineer who took part in the investigation, the latest Philex mine spill has brought heavy damages to properties, rivers particularly Balog, and also to San Roque Dam. Nearly 21-million MT of mine waste were deposited in Balog creek, he said, and these wastes are dispersing to farming communities’ irrigation canals or flowing down to Agno River and San Roque Dam.
Aniceto said the latter are not yet being addressed because “San Roque Dam hid the issue of the tailings.”
“The MGB and even the DENR have failed to conduct a scientific study on how to best remediate TSF3 and decommission it. Instead of cancelling the ECC of Philex for causing the Philippines’ biggest mine disaster, the MGB still has the gall to give the green light for their operations,” Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said.
Philex’s history of minespill
The Philex mining spill, since August last year in Benguet, is so far considered as the biggest mining disaster in the country as it released an estimated 20-million MT of toxic mining waste to the environment.
Scientific studies conducted by Kalikasan PNE and scientist organization AGHAM showed that the mining incident rendered the Balog River biologically dead. Concentration and contamination of heavy metals were determined in different parts of the Balog River.
These groups recommended the decommissioning of Philex’s TP3. They urged the government to push for an impact assessment of Philex mines’ operation, and they demanded compensation for all affected workers, community in Benguet and Pangasinan.
Santos Mero, an Ibaloi and deputy secretary-general of Cordillera People’s Alliance, emphasized that since his youth in Benguet, he has seen “many effects of mining, abandonment of open-pit mines, failure to rehabilitate overutilized tailings pond, among others. Philex alone has a record of at least four mine spill, owing to overutilization of its tailings pond.
“Historically, no mining company has had a tailings pond that did not give way,” Mero said.
Mero and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance are firmly opposed to Philex’s resumption of mining operations in Padcal, Benguet. “They have not addressed the issue of Balog creek, peoples’ affected livelihood, yet they will restart operation?” Mero asked.
As early as two weeks ago, when news first came out that the MGB has endorsed Philex’s proposal to resume operation, indigenous groups in Cordillera have expressed their opposition. “It doesn’t seem appropriate that the overburdened dam, which is not yet rehabilitated, would still be used,” Mero said.
“We recommend TP’s decommissioning. It has been compromised; it may not be able to accommodate increased tailings. Also, its lifespan is now finished,” Aniceto said.
He added that while the MGB considers what happened since August as just a leak, for them in the nearby communities, “it is more appropriate to describe it as dam failure.”
Given how the Aquino government has given SMI and now Philex the go-signal to push through with its large-scale mining operations, against popular protests, Bautista of Kalikasan-PNE suggested that Malacañang may be getting funds from the big mining companies for their election campaign. The green groups said they will protest and challenge the MGB decision in court.