Youth solon calls for on-site investigation of Philex mine leak

KABATAAN Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino has called on the Lower House to probe the recent dam failure incidents in Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal Mine in Itogon, Benguet, following reports of a media blackout on the said disaster that has prevented independent on-site investigations and actual media coverage in the facilities of the Padcal Mines.

Palatino filed House Resolution No. 2823 on October 10, which directs the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Ecology to conduct a joint on-site investigation on the environmental and socio-economic impact of the recent series of dam failures in the Padcal Mines.

“Independent investigations and media coverage on the incident are being hampered by the vast influence of Manny Pangilinan-owned Philex Mining Corporation. As a result, the Philex management has monopoly on information regarding the actual conditions of the facilities in question up until now,” Palatino said.

According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the Tailings Pond 3 (TP3) of Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal Copper-Gold Mine Project in Itogon, Benguet experienced a series of dam failures from August 1 to September 13 due to a breach in the lower portion of its Pen Stock A that resulted in the discharge of at least 20,689,179.42 metric tons of mine tailings into the Balog River, which flows to the Agno River.

An independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) conducted by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines—National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, Cordillera People’s Alliance and various other organizations also revealed that the leaked tailings have disrupted people’s small-scale gold panning activities as well as the livelihoods of more than 34 families living downstream of the Agno River.

The FFM also reported the existence of “mutant tilapia fishes” with big heads and small bodies possibly due to long-term exposure to acid mine drainage, as well as alleged toxic residue in dried and poisoned plants, trees and branches where the discharges from the dam flowed.

However, in a recent statement, Philex Mining Corporation blamed the spill incident on the torrential rains during the months of August and September.

“Contrary to Philex’s claim, the irresponsibility of their company, and not force majeure, is the primary cause of the mining disaster,” Palatino said. “Initial independent findings have shown that the mining company did not ensure the integrity of its tailing ponds, resulting to the disaster,” he added.

Philex’s extension of their TP3’s operations beyond its projected year of decommission, the lack of anticipatory climate-proofing of their facilities as evidenced by their disregard of rainfall projections made public by PAGASA early in 2012, and the company’s bungled response to the leak all contributed to the disaster, Palatino said.

Several environmental organizations have tagged the Padcal Mine Disaster as one of the worst environmental disasters caused by mining activities in the Philippines, as initial investigations show that 20.6 million metric tons of mine waste was released into the waterways due to the leaks, 1,300 percent higher than the amount spilled during the Marcopper mining disaster back in 1996.

“Philex, along with Pangilinan’s cohorts, are downplaying the scope of the disaster, which has large-scale ramifications on the environment and communities in Benguet. Philex must be held accountable, and the real situation in Itogon must be exposed,” Palatino said.

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