Bishop calls for Philex mine closure

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MANILA, Sept. 28, 2012— A Catholic bishop is calling for permanent closure of the country’s largest gold mining operation in Benguet province following a series of “disastrous” waste leaks.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said it is about time for Philex Mining Corp. to end its operation to save the area from further damage.

Massive islands of rubbles and other mining waste from the Philex’s tailings pond 3 in Benguet have been discovered in San Roque dam by an independent group composed of church and environment organizations investigating the waste leaks. (Photo courtesy of CBCP-NASSA)

“It should really be closed. In fact until now they can’t even resolve the damaged tailings dam and they haven’t totally stopped the spill,” he said.

Pabillo chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) which is at the forefront of the church’s advocacy for responsible mining.

The prelate lamented that large-scale mining continues despite their appeal for the government to be considerate of the communities who suffer the most of the consequence of mining.

He said there are many policies about mining to ensure a responsible operation but yet tragedies still happen due to negligence of the operators and the authorities.

“That’s why others are even saying that responsible mining is just a myth because when something happened, mining companies normally want to escape from their liabilities,” said Pabillo.

“So the government should really be careful about this because when incident like this happens, the damage really affects other areas and it can’t be contained in just one place,” he said.

Real score

Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon, whose pastoral jurisdiction covers Benguet, called on the mining company to divulge the real score of the waste spill and the extent of damage it created.

“Those inside should give us the right information that can help us think what the right thing to do is. It’s a social problem,” he said.

The bishop said there are many families who just rely on mining and permanently closing its operations would certainly affect their only source of income.

Cenzon refused to give a categorical answer on the calls to cancel the Philex’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC) but he said the waste leak is a major concern.

“Many people said they have been dependent on mining. The problem now really is the mine spills,” he said. “I think this is very difficult to solve.”

He said there are many versions of what really happened which already confuse the public.

“I don’t have much opinion at this moment because it’s like we are in the middle of the typhoon,” he said.

1 billion fine not enough

The government recently slapped the mining firm with P1 billion fine due to the sediment spills from its tailings dam.

A snapshot of Philex's tailings pond 3 (TP3) in Benguet. (Photo courtesy of CBCP-NASSA)

The Philex, however, said they will contest the fine imposed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for the incident was caused by an act of nature.

The company claimed that the leak from its tailings pond was caused by heavy rains unleashed by a typhoon.

Philex also said that the mine would probably be shut down until the end of year to give way for the cleaning and rehabilitation.

For Pabillo, the issue is more than just the money.

“What about the damage? The livelihood of the people especially the fishermen is gone. Where’s that P1 billion going anyway? It’s only the government who will collect it,” he said.

The Nassa yesterday also delivered relief goods to a community of indigenous peoples (IPs) affected by the mine spill.

Fr. Edu Gariguez, Nassa executive secretary, said they gave an initial supply of 10 sacks of rice and 10 boxes of canned goods to the IPs who rely on fishing as their livelihood.

“These people have been asking for aid because according to them the Philex already stopped from giving them aid,” he said.

The Nassa and the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines earlier organized an independent fact finding mission to investigate the impact of the mine leaks.

Gariguez said initial result of their investigation revealed that areas affected by the mine spill include the San Roque dam up to the downstream communities and the irrigation system of at least seven towns.

Results of their probe with recommendations on how to address the problem will officially be released on Oct. 2 and will be submitted to Philex and to the government for proper action. [RL/CBCPNews]


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