Talacagay is considered as one of the rice granaries in Hinoba-an, with 4,000 hectares of land devoted to palay production.
Members of the IFFEM team in South Negros climbed the mountain range and saw 48 drilling holes in Nagtalay subvillage in Talacagay village; in Skid 8, Skid 6, Skid 9 and Buyog subvillage in Nabulao village; Libertad and Laboran subvillages in Bacuyangan village. The average measurement of one drilling hole is 500 square meters. The 48 holes measure about 24,000 m2 or more than 258,342.3 ft2, as indicated on the cover of each hole.
The team received reports that there are six drilling holes at sitio Cayas, the tri-boundary of Cabadiangan, Nabulao and Manlocahoc villages.
No honest-to-goodness mitigating measures, rehabilitation
A look at the Philex’s so-called mitigating measures and rehabilitation efforts in Talacagay village, Hinoba-an would reveal why the Bacuyangan River has become silted.
The IFFEM team saw the silt traps used by Philex, which are made of bamboo and other light materials. “Silt traps are constructed but not according to accepted engineering standards,” Fabila said. The mining engineer also noted that it is apparent that there is regular de-silting of the traps.
Fabila said silt traps should be made of stable structures like concrete and there should be a retaining wall. These, he said, should also be regularly maintained.
Fabila said sand bags, which the IFFEM team also saw in the area of Philex’s operations, are not enough to prevent soil erosion.
The company planted some young madre de cacao trees and tigbao (a type of grass) along the slopes. Fabila said these are not sufficient to arrest soil erosion. He said the absence of genuine rehabilitation on exposed slopes has caused progressive erosions.
“It is likely that the company wants to cut costs, this is why it used such materials,” Fabila said.
Madre de cacao plants seen at the Philex’s exploration site. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
Overall, Fabila branded Philex’s efforts as “just for show.”
Polluting the rivers
Wastes from Philex’s operations go directly to the three main rivers – Bacuyangan, Hinoba-an and Sipalay Rivers.
Residents rely on these rivers for irrigation and household use. The springs, which are the source of their drinking water, have dried out.
Villarin recalled the days when they could still catch shrimp and fresh water fish from the Bacuyangan River. It has become very rare nowadays, he said.
The residents of Bungyod subvillage, Talacagay also reported catching fish with foul odor and with skin discoloration. Those who ate the fish suffered stomachache.
Cases of skin rashes and boils were reported, especially among children who bathe in the creek or river. The victims, however, were not able to seek medical attention.
A possible explanation to such incidents, according to Fabila, is the increasing acidity of water due to acid mine drainage phenomenon. He said drilling operations, which require the digging of the earth surface at great depth, can result in acid mine drainage. He explained that when sulfur minerals are exposed, they undergo oxidation that increases the acidity in water. The acid mine drainage, Fabila said, could also lead to heavy metal poisoning.
The IFFEM team failed to test the acidity of the water in Bacuyangan River.
However, Greg Ratin, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Negros, recalled that in 1996, cases of toxic dermatitis and upper respiratory tract infection were recorded among the residents of Sipalay. Philex, at that time, was still into full blast operations. The company temporarily closed down its operations in 2002.
“The worst is yet to come,” Fabila said.
Ratin called on fellow Negrenses to stand up against large-scale destructive mining.
The IFFEM is organized by the Asian Peasant Coalition, KMP, KMP-Negros and Action Solidarite Tiers Monde.
For farmers like Lagtapon, it is so easy to see that large-scale mining is not for them. “The foreigners and big businessmen are the ones benefiting from mining, not us.”