DENR urged to
permanently close Albay Mine
Mining Deliberately Leaked Cyanide, Says Fact-finding
An environmental group
has accused a mining company of being responsible for the fish kill in
Rapu-rapu Island in Albay province, not just once, but twice, last
October. Based on the results of its fact-finding mission, the mining
company must be permanently closed. The ecological damage, after all,
could go beyond
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
RAPU-RAPU ISLAND –
After an independent fact-finding mission revealed that the fish kill in
the nearby waters of Rapu-Rapu Island in Albay (about 600 km. from Manila)
was allegedly due to a deliberate cyanide leakage, the Center for
Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils) recommended the permanent
closure of the mines of Lafayette Philippines, Inc. on the island.
The Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) temporarily suspended the
Discharge Permit of the foreign-funded P1.4-billion ($25.6 million, based
on an exchange rate of P54.59 for every US dollar) Rapu-Rapu polymetallic
project of the Lafayette Philippines on Rapu-Rapu island after the two
mine spills last Oct. 11 and 31 that allegedly caused cyanide
contamination and fish kill in nearby waters. The
suspension order was based on a joint investigation by the Mines
and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental
Management Bureau (EMB), both under DENR.
On the other hand,
the independent fact-finding team that visited Rapu-Rapu from Nov. 12 to
13 was led by the scientists’ group Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at
Teknolohiya (Agham, Association of Science and Technology Advocates for
the People) and CEC-Phil, with the help of the Sagip-Isla (Save the
Island), a multi-sectoral organization opposing the Lafayette mining
operations on the island, and other non-government organizations and
Even before the
mission, Nida Bandal, Sagip-Isla coordinator in Barangay (village)
Binosawan, Rapu-Rapu, told Bulatlat that she has talked to some of
his neighbors who saw the deliberate opening of the dam to release
Bandal said that a
barangay official saw the dam’s actual opening last Oct. 31. The witness,
however, was hesitant to give his testimony without proof like a picture.
After the incident, she said that this official has brought a camera if
ever another similar act would occur.
Januar Ong, CEC-Phil
research coordinator who headed the fact-finding team, said that
testimonies gathered by the team, including a worker at the mine,
contradicted reports of Lafayette officials that the mine’s dam
overspilled as a result of minor damage. It was opened to avoid breaching
of the dam which could no longer hold additional water caused by the heavy
rains, he said.
“There was no damage
to the dam. Instead, testimonies reveal the mine tailings were released
from the main tailings dam to a smaller overfill dam which caused the
leakage,” said Ong.
The mission also
reported that even the barriers that prevented the flow of the water from
the mine site to the sea were destroyed.
on the alleged damaged dam, Ong said, only showed its “effort to shield
itself from gross irresponsibility and culpability.”
criticized the mining firm officials for saying that the dam was damaged
because it is yet to complete its construction.
“Eh dapat, hindi
sila nag-umpisa kaagad kung hindi pa pala ayos,” (They should have not
started operations if the dam were not yet finished.) she said.
Ong said that far
from what Environment Secretary Michael Defensor referred to as
“state-of-the-art” technology being used by the mining company, they only
saw “a crude, haphazard design of mine structures that could easily result
in disasters such as what happened.”
Aside from the
alleged leakage, Ong also said that the mining company is guilty of
violating its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) which provides
for a “land-based” mine tailings disposal system.
Based on the mission
report, Lafayette’s mine tailings dam is located near the Binosawan river.
officials of the MGB to “see for themselves that a bogus state-of-the-art
and irresponsible mining firm has redirected its wastes and tailings into
He said that mine
workers told the fact-finding team that they were allegedly instructed by
Lafayette officials to dig canals and lay down new pipes to redirect the
mine’s waste and tailings directly to the sea.
“They will not fail
to see newly dug canals and several six-inch diameter pipes leading from
the lower tailings pond uphill, downhill to one of two small settling
ponds with canals leading to the sea,” Ong said.
According to the DENR,
the standard for cyanide in water is 0.05 parts per mission (ppm). EMB
tests showed that discharge of effluent from the tailings pond raised the
cyanide level in the water at 0.1 ppm from the second mine spill.
mission reported that the discharge may have dried out several plants and
trees along the trail of the mine tailings. It also included residents who
acquired skin diseases after being exposed to the alleged contaminated
Lafayette was fined more than P300,000 ($5,495.51) for the spill last Oct.
11 that resulted in a fish kill reported by surrounding communities. The
DENR is still calculating the penalty for the second spill last Oct. 31.
Moreover, Bandal told
Bulatlat that they never believed company officials when they told
them that the mining operations will not affect the lives of the people
and their environment. The areas directly affected by the mining
operations are Malobago, Pagculbon and Binosawan.
Bandal was not
surprised with the presence of cyanide on the island even though one of
the company’s promises, she said, was the exclusion of a refinery on the
island where the processing of gold ores is done. The highly toxic cyanide
is a primary agent in separating gold from ore.
Aside from the affected marine life in Hollow Stone and Ungay creeks,
residents reported there were dead fish and other marine organisms on the
shore last Nov. 1. She also said that the concentration of the dead fish
were only in Binosawan. An initial 15 kilos of dead fishes and octopuses
were brought to the island’s municipal hall for investigation.
But what saddened her
and other small fisherfolk even more were the deaths of the shellfishes.
During rainy days or
when the waves in the sea are huge that small fisherfolk could not sail
farther to fish, or even during kati (low tide), people get their
food by picking up various kinds of shellfishes on the shore. There are
also others, specially those who do not have a fishing boats or nets, who
could even sell a plate of shellfishes from P5 to P15 ($0.09 to $0.27).
“Dati sumisilip pa
kami sa butas sa lupa para hanapin ang mga nagtatagong shells,”
recalled Bandal. “Ngayon nagsilabasan na silang lahat at puro patay na.”
(Before, we peek through holes on the ground to look for hiding
shellfishes. Now, they have all come out but they are all dead.)
Director Frances Quimpo warned that unless Lafayette’s mining operations
on Rapu-rapu island is permanently stopped, more toxic mine wastes will
spill into Albay Gulf, destroying the country’s marine biodiversity not
only in Bicol but also other fishing grounds in Southern Luzon and the
Even the endangered
butanding (locals’ name for whale sharks) which are seen in the
gulf separating Rapu-rapu from Sorsogon will not be spared from the
contamination, she added.
Worse, Quimpo said
that “Rapu-Rapu is a new Marinduque in the making.”
In 1993, a siltation
dam collapsed pouring toxic mine waste into Mogpog river in Marinduque
(171 kilometers from Manila). That disaster killed all marine life and
caused flooding which destroyed the rich farming areas along the river. It
was followed in March 1996 when more than three million tons of toxic mine
tailings spilled into Boac river, killing all aquatic life and destroying
the homes and properties of the communities around it. At that time, a
badly sealed tunnel in an old mine tailings pit burst open and gorged its
The two main rivers
in Marinduque have not been revived up to now. Bulatlat
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© 2005 Bulatlat
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