House to probe Philex mine tailing spills in Benguet

THE House Committee on Natural Resources is set to conduct an inquiry into the mine tailing spills involving the Philex Mining Corporation in Itogon, Benguet which is considered as the biggest environmental disaster in recent history of Philippine mining.

Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares (Party-list, Bayan Muna) filed House Resolution 2891 urging the House committee to invite officials of the Philex Mining Corp., Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), anti-mining advocates and concerned agencies during the public hearing.

Colmenares said Philex Mining Corp., a gold and copper producer, initially faced close to P1billion in fines for the sediments spills in its Pacdal mines waste facility in Benguet province based on the estimate of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje.

Colmenares said on top of the fines that the DENR imposed, the agency also imposed a P200,000 per day penalty on Philex for the spills in violation of the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 or Republic Act 9275 and its own Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

“This means that Philex could end up paying a fine of P975 million or P325 million multiplied by three, plus another P8.4 million or P200,000 times 42 days- and counting as of September 11, 2012. However, the direct impact of the mining tailings to its immediate surroundings had not been given
significant attention,” Colmenares said.

Citing the reports on the mine tailing spills, Colmenares said 9.9 million tons of toxic waste was discharged from TP3 from August 1 to 9, 2012.

“The waste covered a stretch of 2.5 kilometers, 15 feet wide and 2 to 8-feet thick in the Balog River in Itogon, Benguet. This volume may have doubled by the fourth mine spill on August 30,” Colmenares said.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Katribu and Aminan Salakniban, non-governmental groups in the Cordillera region also called for an independent environmental investigation on mine tailing spills.

A fact finding mission team, lead by the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-NASSA), Climate Change Congress of the Philippines (CCCP), Philippine-Missereor Partnership Northern Luzon Cluster, Caritas Baguio, CPA, Peace Foundation, Katribu, Pambasang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (PKMP) and Community Volunteer Missioners, conducted an independent investigation in the affected area.

In its 26-page report, the church-led fact-finding mission noted that the mine spill was massive and that the total amount of sediments released by the mining company was about 20.6 million metric tons, which was way higher compared to the Marcopper tragedy in Marinduque 17 years ago.

The Marcopper Mine incident in Marinduque in March 24, 1996 has discharged more than 1.6 million cubic meters of sediments along 27 kilometers of the Makulapnit- Boac River and in the coastal areas of the province.

The report also contradicted the claim of the Philex mining that the mine spills are non-toxic.

The report said the massive tailings spills have caused heavy siltation and toxic contamination of the Balog and Agno Rivers, the rice fields along the river banks downstream, and the San Roque Dam, poisoning plants, trees, fishes, and livestock in the towns of Itogon and Tuba in Benguet province and in the Agno River in Pangasinan.

Colmenares said the officials of Philex should explain why the company continues to operate despite the fact that it is involved in massive mine tailing spills defying Executive Order 79 issued by President Aquino.

E. O. 79 states that it shall deny all mining applications that can potentially affect protected areas, tourism sites, agricultural lands, and other critical areas. The Implementing Rules and Regulations of E. O. 79 stipulates that mining rights shall be granted only to those able to strictly comply with environmental management records, among other requirements.

“The Philex case underscores the problem of allowing the continued operations of approved mining contracts prior to the issuance of EO 79. It is thus only proper that the government levy heavy fines on the errant mining firm, allow an independent environmental investigative mission to commence, and prosecute all those responsible for the Philex mining incident,” Colmenares said.

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