Beautiful Inside Out: a column by Lyn V. Ramo
Organized groups of indigenous peoples have been clamoring for an independent impartial investigation into the spill of mine tailings into the Agno river system.
They wanted to know the extent of the mine disaster that the collapse of the third tailings pond of Philex Mining Corporation off the boundary between Tuba and Itogon towns in Benguet, and is quite posing a real threat to the province of Pangasinan.
In earlier reports, TP3 was said to have given way after the southeast monsoon brought torrents in many areas in Metro Manila, Central and North Luzon.
While the environment agency has asked Philex P1.034 billion, the mining firm refused to settle nor admit negligence on its part, saying it was a force majeure tha caused the mine disaster.
In the early 1990s, Philex's second tailings pond collapsed sending tons upon tons of mine wastes into the Agno river thus, farmers in lowland San Manuel in Pangasinan had to shovel out muck wastes from their rice paddies.
If we are to rely on the computation the Mines and Geosciences Bureau did, the mine spill reached some 20 million tons of wastes cascading into the Balog creek, a tributary to the Agno River system.
This volume threatens the integrity of the San Roque Multi-purpose Dam at the foot of the hills in San Manuel and San Nicolas towns in Pangasinan. Dam builders, in the early 90's did not see the possibility of a mine disaster as huge as this one. The future scenario is as devastating as it is mind-boggling to compute how much more can the 290-meter high dam can hold than torrential rains and debris from the mountains.
Now we are talking about 20 million tons of slurry. Mine tailings can be heavier than the usual debris from the slopes that simple rain carry into the lake behind the dam.
Philex is preparing to suspend its mining operations in the next six months, employing its miners for the cleaning-up operations and restoration work at the disaster site.
It is not going to pay the fines the government is imposing on it because it does not like to admit there was negligence on its part.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and Katribu Indigenous Peoples Partylist, however, see this as an act of arrogance on the part of a mining firm supposedly a model for responsible mining.
These groups maintain that the dam that holds the tailings is long due for decommisioning saying that the life of TP3 was projected only for 18 to 20 years ending 2012.
These groups say that Philex could have foreseen the impending collapse since the issue of climate change have been on the air since early 2000 and that information on extreme weather occurrences have been anticipated with the government drumbeating mitigation and adaptation measures long ago.
Philex could have known better. That there is life after mining? Let Philex show how beautiful life for indigenous peoples in communities adjacent to its operations.
As Windel Bolinget, CPA chair puts it: Let Manny V. Pangilinan, the mining big boss, drink from the creeks that the dam collapse has contaminated. Residents testified in an earlier forum that they could no longer drink from the creek that used to supply them with potable water.
No less than the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 mandated the P50 per ton of mine waste and this became the basis for the MGB computation of fines. Philex is among the mining companies that endorse the mining policy, which indigenous peoples oppose up till now.
P50 per ton of damaging spills is a but a pittance and forms an insult more than compensation for a damaged livelihood, resources and the ancestral domain of IPs who regard the land as life.
MGB has not divulged what toxins are in the mine tailings that keep cascading into the Agno River. How much should a company pay if the tailings contain heavy metals like lead and mercury? What cost do these tailings impose on the environment and the ives of those who depend on the river and the farms?
As for me, my simple mind tells me to shout: leave the indigenous peoples alone. I join them in saying: Stop large-scale mining operations while there is no clear policy that ensures safety for communities; equitability and sustainability that the people will define. #