Walk the talk on punishment of Philex mine disaster, DENR told

GREEN group Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment challenged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to walk the talk of holding the Philex Mining Corporation accountable for the recent mining disaster it caused in its Pacal Mine in Itogon, Benguet by exercising its police powers. This was in response to the exchanges between Philex and DENR on the mining company’s refusal to pay the P1.034 billion fine imposed on them.

“DENR is mandated to oversee, supervise and police our natural resources but we have yet to see this in the series of tailings dam failures caused by Philex. All operations of Philex should be immediately closed and their permits cancelled for defying the law in the same breath that DENR ordered and easily enforced the closure of countless dumps, saw mills and other environmentally destructive operations in the past, This is in fact long called for, as this is not the first time that Philex has skirted responsibility for its mining disasters,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

Records of mining disasters since 1982 have pegged the number of tailings dam failures that occurred in the various mining projects of Philex to be at least five. This included the collapse of the Padcal Mine’s older tailings pond that spilled 80 million metric tons which went unpunished.

“The issue with Philex goes beyond their refusal to pay for the pollution of Balog and Agno River. The greater issue at hand is why these irresponsible miners that are historically serial offenders to our environmental laws are still not met with action that has teeth. Even with just preliminary independent data at hand, the causality of Philex’s negligence and the resultant biological death of the affected Balog River should have elicited a stronger penal reaction from DENR,” Bautista reiterated.

Kalikasan PNE cited the initial findings of the recent environmental investigation mission (EIM) that it co-conducted with other people’s organizations and cause-oriented formations from October 26-28, 2012. No signs of aquatic organisms were observed during the EIM’s assessment of biological indicators in the waters of Balog River and its confluence with Agno River.

“The scent of rotten fish pervaded the air, indicating the possibility of fish kills induced by the deluge of mine tailings. It complimented our observations of the high turbidity of the affected waters, which prevents the penetration of sunlight and have likely affected the productivity of aquatic vegetation and massively disrupted the food chain,” Bautista recalled.

The EIM also gathered water and sediment samples to assess the levels of total suspended solids (TSS) and the toxic heavy metals in the affected water bodies. Laboratory results are still pending.

“Philex cannot keep hiding behind their ‘Force Majeure’ card as it was clearly established that the company used their tailings dam beyond its lifespan, making it structurally compromised. Reliable 50 and 100-year rainfall records in Padcal are respectively pegged at 658.6mm and 731.3mm, clearly above the amounts that came from the typhoon and monsoon storms blamed for the period. This proves that Philex failed to anticipate the flood risks,” said Bautista.

“This wanton disregard for strictly ensuring environmental safety warrants the closure of Philex’s operations. This cannot happen again, and letting Philex off the hook sets the precedent for its continued lax management of its mines. It also emboldens other irresponsible large-scale miners to do the same,” Bautista said.

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