Revisiting the Marinduque Mining Disaster

Article excerpt

Byline: Francis N. Tolentino

JUSTICE delayed is justice denied. It has been twelve long years since the Marinduque mining disaster, and yet, nothing had seemed resolved. Cases filed in courts had been there for as long as the people of Marinduque can remember. The Boac river had never been restored and the people's lives had never been repaired. Indeed, green courts have been established, and this is a laudable move. But has the initiative been truly enough to expedite cases such as that against Marcopper and Placer Dome?

It brings shivers down the spine to recall the hateful lot that fell on the people of Marinduque some twelve years ago. On March 24, 1996, 3.4 million tons of metal enriched and acid generated tailings spilled into the 26-kilometer river of Boac (the largest waterway in Marinduque) at a discharge rate of 5-10 cubic meters per second, poisoning all forms of marine life that inhabited the river, and causing immense damage to the life support systems of nearby communities. For more than three decades, Placer Dome had conducted mining activities in Marinduque (despite much community resistance), amassing billions and billions of dollars from extracting Philippine mineral resources. Yet, it should be noted that during Placer Dome's 30-years of operation, "Marinduque endured one mining-related environmental disaster after another. For sixteen years, from 1975 to 1991, Placer Dome oversaw the dumping of 200 million tons of mine waste (tailings) directed into the shallow waters of Calancan Bay, covering corals and seagrasses and the bottom of the bay with 80 square kilometres of tailings. The food security of twelve fishing villages around the bay had been severely impacted...These tailings are also leaching metals into the bay and are suspected to be the cause of lead contamination that has been identified in children from the villages around the bay...In 1993, a dam holding back mine waste at the mountainous headwaters of the Mogpog River burst, flooding downstream villages and the town of Mogpog so severely that houses were swept away, water buffaloes and other livestock killed and crops destroyed." (Backgrounder on Placer Dome Marinduque, Philippines -- 16 January 2002 -- published by Mining Watch)

The disaster, and its magnitude, also caught international attention. The United Nations Environment Program/Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UNEP/DHA) Environment Unit conducted an assessment of the affected areas in Marinduque and arrived at the following conclusions:

* The Makulapnit and Boac river systems had been so significantly degraded as to be considered an environmental disaster.

* The acquatic life, productivity and beneficial use of the rivers for domestic and agicultural purposes are totally lost as a result of the physical process of sedimentation.

* The coastal bottom communities adjacent to the mouth of the Boac river are also significantly degraded as a direct result of smothering by the mine tailings.

* There is no evidence of acute poisoning in the exposed population due to the mine tailings.

* There is an increased health and safety risk due to the immersion and flooding as a result of the very large volume and physical properties of the mine tailings, should they be mobilized during the wet season; and

* Concentrations of trace metals in the mine tailings were not sufficiently high to represent an immediate toxicological threat. …