Lakbayan vs ‘mine unsafety’ highlights Philex disaster

BAGUIO CITY – Inter-regional protest caravan led by Defend Patrimony Alliance and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment dubbed as Lakbayan para sa Ligtas at Makabayang Pagmimina culminated in Baguio City today as an alternative commemoration of the 58th celebration of Mine Safety Week.

Highlighting the worsening environmental disasters and human rights violations (HRVs) caused by large-scale mining, the Lakbayan was attended by contingents from Metro Manila, Ilocos, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan and the Cordillera region as part of a nationally-coordinated protest mobilization that focused on the environmental crimes of Philex Mining Corporation. The action projected the recent series of tailings dam failures in Philex’s Padcal Mines in Itogon, Benguet.

Coordinated actions were simultaneously held at the offices of Philex in Pasig City and Sipalay, Negros Occidental. The action at Philex’s office in Sipalay comes off an international fact-finding mission that confirmed decreased agricultural and fisheries productivity and other social and environmental costs as a result of previous mine tailings spills from their mining and drilling operations.

“Philex Mining Corporation is now the poster boy of ‘Mine Unsafety’ as its irresponsibility led to the spillage of at least 20.6 million metric tons of mine waste that made the affected Balog River biologically dead. Philex’s recent series of dam failures is considered to be the worst mine disaster in terms of volume. We have even yet to see the real extent of the recent disaster’s toxicity as independent laboratory tests are still pending,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The preliminary findings of an independent environmental investigation mission joined by Kalikasan PNE discovered that aquatic organisms can no longer be found in the highly turbid waters of Balog River and its confluence with Agno River. Thick siltation was observed in its waters, and the scent of rotten fish pervaded the area.

“More Philex-types of disasters will surely occur again in the future if the current mining regime that focuses on foreign investment and profit instead of effective environmental safety and community welfare remains. Until now the government failed to make Philex accountable to its crimes and environmental destruction brought about its mining operations,” Bautista noted.

Philex Mining have mine spill accidents  in both of its operations in Negros Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte Occidental in 1995 and 1997, respectively.  Mine leakage were recorded in the Philex Bulawan gold mine which resulted in the massive siltation of Sipalay River in Negros and the Philex dam overflow in its Sibutad gold project which caused fish kills in Zamboanga del Norte.

“We reiterate our calls for a moratorium on all large-scale mining projects until a new policy on mining such as the People’s Mining Bill is put in place, which pushes for stricter environmental compliance and social responsibility is in place,” noted Bautista.

The Lakbayan also highlighted the worsening human rights situation in mining-affected communities as a clear indicator of mine unsafety in the Philippines. 18 mining-related killings have been recorded under the Aquino administration, 14 of which occurred in the minerals-rich Mindanao region. All 21 incidences of other human rights violations towards environmentalists recorded in 2012 involved mining issues, including cases of harassment, vilification, militarization and frustrated assassination.

“2012 is in fact the most dangerous year for anti-mining activists with 10 out of the 14 cases of killings under Pres. Benigno Aquino III occurring this year alone. The hapless massacre of mother Juvy Capion and her sons John and Pops is the clearest indicator of the industry becoming increasingly fascist,” lamented Fr. Oliver Castor of Task Force Environment Defenders.

The Capions were the family of Daguil Capion, a B’laan tribal leader opposed to the entry of large-scale miner Xstrata-SMI in their ancestral lands in South Cotabato, suspected to have been murdered by the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army that was tasked to protect mining investments in the area.

“The advent of PNoy’s Executive Order 79 on mining did nothing to address these environmental crimes and human rights violations. Justice must be dispensed immediately not only for the victims of mining disasters such as Philex’s dam failure, but also to all victims of mining-related human rights violations,” explained Castor.

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