Learn from Philex, SMI told-A A +A
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
SAGITTARIUS Mines Incorporated (SMI) should learn from the bad experiences of Philex mining, environmentalists said.
"The SMI should know that no amount of engineering or mitigation measures can predict and prevent the forces of nature,” said the environmentalists, adding that “the danger is so potent that SMI could also wreck havoc to thousands of villages in South Cotabato destroying not only the river systems and environment but also the lives of the people around Tampakan."
Last October 5, 2012, a group of environmentalists convened in Ateneo de Davao University regarding Philex and Executive Order 79 (EO 79).
Philex Mining Corp. (PMC), which was always advertised as the standard bearer for mining companies, showcasing its advocacy for responsible mining, recently showed its vulnerability as 20.6M metric tons of tailing spillage drained down the Balog and Agno rivers.
"The spillage is massive. It is 1,300 percent higher than the Marcopper accident in Boac, Marinduque in 1996," according to a fact-finding mission report led by CBCP-Nassa (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace).
It can be recalled that the Marcopper spillage also killed the Boac River. Until today, studies showed that coastal sediments near the river outflow contains high amount of copper, manganese, lead and zinc.
The leakage flooded the Boac River at a rate of five to 10 cubic meters per second with deadly mine tailings.
The tragedy repeated itself through the Padcal Mines Leaks of Philex in Benguet last August 2012. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, also a DENR agency, separately imposed a P1 billion fine against Philex Mining in violation of the 1995 Philippine Mining Act and the Clean Water Act. However, the PMC refuses to give compensation arguing that the incident was caused by force majeure.
"Force majeure is a ridiculous defense. Philex cannot claim force majeure since they have contributory negligence. The tailings pond 3 was commissioned in 1992 with a life span of 18 years. Therefore, it should have been decommissioned in 2010. But they continued operating," said lawyer Arnold Abejaron, volunteer lawyer for Apila, Ateneo's human rights center.
Since the spill, residents were able to fish not more than half prior to the incident. The leakage resulted to ecological degradation and deprivation of livelihood opportunities to the community near the area.
Under such conditions of climate change, special precaution and contingencies should have been observed.
Several environmental groups strongly oppose the SMI Tampakan Project, which purports to explore, allegedly, the world's largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits.
According to Dr. Robert Goodland, an environmental scientist, "the Tampakan Project covers 10,000 hectares and destroys 4,000 hectares of catchment forests. It will have a tailings pond atop the mountains which lie on a major fault line. It will leave a hole, 500 hectares wide and 800 meters deep and will use freshwater to transport toxic materials through a 150-kilometer pipe to the Davao Gulf."
The environmentalists in the gathering emphasized that these circumstances magnify the probability of a toxic leak in the future if SMI is not prevented from exploiting the resources. They raised the reminder that responsible mining is not only about compliance with the legal requirements. It must also mean consideration of the safety of the people and biodiversity and the integrity of creation and natural resources.
"The lessons from Marcopper and Philex, along with the extreme changes in climate condition, lead us to ask the question: is responsible mining simply a compliance with the requirements under the law? I say no. We have to push it further. Responsible mining should mean enjoying the natural resources without destroying them. That mining should give way to the protection of people and environment in lieu of the economic profit that mining promises to bring," said lawyer Romeo T. Cabarde Jr., director of Apila (Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center).
PMC should be accountable to the damages if they are to be responsible stewards. Such neglect of environmental effect is inexcusable, says Apila.
The center is hopeful that faulty occurrences like the Marcopper and Philex will not happen again. The first bold step towards this is to stop SMI from development the Tampakan Project, he added.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 16, 2012.