• An open letter to the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC)

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    IT has come to my attention that you are reviewing the ban I had made on open pit mining while I was still Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In view of this, I am reiterating the reasons for the ban which I feel needs to be addressed and considered in your review:

    The open pits are going to be there forever. After mining, the open pits need to be maintained forever. If the open pits are not detoxified and neutralized regularly, the acid water and toxic metals they are generating will continue to pollute our rivers, our streams, and adversely affect the lives of the communities living there. And because the miners will not stay there forever, Government will be left to shoulder the maintenance works. This means that the open pits will be a continuing financial liability to our Government.

    The existence of toxic open pits kills the economic potential of the area. It kills the biodiversity, the possibilities of ecotourism, etc. There are at least 14 open pit mines in the Philippines – 10 of them are abandoned or suspended, while 5 are filled with toxic acid water and/or heavy metals.

    The existence of the open pits violates the constitutional rights of our people to a clean and healthy environment. Mining is not a right. Mining is a privilege granted to operators under certain conditions. Our right to clean air and clean water is not only constitutional, but it is also a God given right. The investors of open pit mining already have so much money. They don’t need to make more. But our people need to have access to clean water, as well as to healthy land and biodiversity.

    All open pits invariably hit a water table. This is because of the geological characteristics of the country wherein ground water can be intercepted at shallow depth. With the deep open pits, water that should have been used by the community is thrown away so that the mining company can get the minerals – it is water wasted.

    There will be a severe water shortage by 2030. We need the water for food and for life. Throwing water away because a company wants to make more money is against our constitutional rights.

    I have a strong apprehension over the situation because assisting the MICC co-chairman is Bayani H. Agabin who worked as a lawyer of mining companies, while the co-chairman is Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez—and it is a well-known fact that his family has interests in mining. He himself was a president of a mining firm. Just like what happened to me in the Commission on Appointments, business interests may navigate to win the day instead of the well-being of our people, which is as it should be.

    Open pit mining has a disastrous record in this country. To even consider opening up more scenarios, such as what we have experienced, is the height of narrow mindedness and manifests an abhorrent lack of commitment to the public good. And as the record shows:

    Maricalum Mining Corporation, Negros Occidental – The open pit mining operations were suspended in 2001 due to labor disputes. Its open pit is 60 stories deep and it had 4 tailings spill incidents between the years 1982 and 1996, damaging more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land and uprooted more than 1,200 community members. The ongoing erosion of waste dump has greatly silted Kalak-an River and the tailings ponds have caused air pollution due to sandstorms and dust generation.

    CDCP Mining Corp., Negros Oriental – The open pit mining operations stopped in the 1980s due to the drop in copper price. It is now held by the Privatization and Management Office due to loan guarantees. Its open pit contains the heavy metals copper and zinc that exceed the maximum threshold of 0.01 mg/L by 200 to 500 times based on a study conducted by the Silliman University.

    Manila Mining Corp., Surigao del Norte – The open pit mining operations were suspended in 2001 due to the non-renewal of the company’s permit to operate its tailings pond. Currently, the acidity level of one of the open pits is at pH 2.8 – the neutral is Ph 7. The company had a tailings spill incident in September 1995, releasing 50,000 cubic meters of tailings and killing 12, while polluting coastal waters. In 1999, it released 700,000 tons of tailings, burying 17 homes, and 40 hectares of land, including 20 hectares of agricultural land.

    Dizon Copper-Silver Mines, Inc., Zambales – Its operations were suspended in 1997. The water in the abandoned pit is highly acidic, with a pH level of 2 – the neutral level is pH 7. The liquid in the pit is so acidic, it can melt the propeller of a boat. Due to the failure to maintain the open pit, the acid mine drainage now threatens Mapanuepe Lake and a community in Barangay Bunawen.

    Palawan Quicksilver Mine, Inc., Palawan – The open pit was abandoned in 1974 when operational cost of mining mercury became prohibitive. According to a study conducted by the Department of Health in Puerto Princesa City, 70 percent of the population is affected by mercury poisoning due to the constant exposure to mine tailings and the ingestion of marine products contaminated by poisonous methyl mercury. Certain fish samples show mercury content of 12 mg/L, several times higher than the maximum threshold of 0.002 mg/L.

    Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corp., Samar – It stopped operations in 1992. This caused the generation of acid mine drainage that have contaminated the Taft River. P300 million have already been spent by the Philippine government for the mine rehabilitation. It needs more money to remediate the impacts of the open pit.

    Marcopper Mining Corp., Marinduque – It stopped operations in 1996 due to a tailings spill. This is considered the poster child for one of the worst mining disasters in the world. Two rivers were declared biologically dead due to the open pit mine. Currently, the acid mine water ranges from pH 2 to pH 3, with continuing erosion of waste dump. Marcopper has disastrously affected the economic potential of the entire province for 21 years now—while children, farmers, and fishermen continue to suffer from the poisons of the open pit.

    Acoje Mining Co., Inc., Pangasinan – Operations were stopped in the 1980s due to the drop in copper price.
    Benguet Corp., Benguet – Operations were suspended in 1997 due to the drop in gold price. The open pit has been abandoned for 20 years.

    Consolidated Mines, Inc., Marinduque – Operations were stopped in the 1980s due to the drop in copper prices. While it was operating, its tailings were directly dumped in the sea, while its mine wastes were dumped in mangrove areas – creating a mountain of wastes.

    What is critical is that all of the above open pits are still there, eternally posing grave threats to the environment, including innocent communities!

    We should not be fooled by the assertion of the miners that all the destructions caused by open pits are things of the past on the argument that Republic Act 7942, the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, has addressed the situation.

    They may have forgotten that the open pits of Maricalum, Manila Mining and Dizon Copper are already covered by the Mining Act. Open pits will continue to be open pits. Even after undertaking final mine rehabilitation as imposed by the Mining Act, the open pits will remain as gaping holes on the ground requiring perpetual maintenance by the government. “The after-effects… will be felt for hundreds of generation, until the next ice age or geologic cataclysm, a perpetual problem in need of a perpetual solution.”

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