“Now, with the excuse that it has not completed its dam rehabilitation, Philex once again wants to extend its operations. The real reason behind this is to rake in billions of pesos from their operation while subjecting our people to possibly another flooding and disaster.” – Kalikasan PNE
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Environmentalist groups asked the stockholders of Philex Mining Corporation yesterday to abandon the company, saying its irresponsible mining operation is posing danger to communities in Benguet and nearby province of Pangasinan. According to environmentalists and scientists, Philex is bent on continuing operations to maximize its resource extraction and profits, at the expense of the environment, communities and public structures such as the San Roque Multi-purpose Facility and San Roque Watershed Reservation.
The green groups vehemently disputed Philex’s claims that it is working to rehabilitate the Padcal mine site, including its mine wastes dam, or that it is cleaning up the mine wastes its damaged dam had spilled down into the Balog Creek, Agno River and San Roque Multi-purpose Facility last year.
As members of these green groups and activist groups were holding a picket in front of a swanky hotel in Ortigas, Philex was holding its annual stockholders’ meeting inside. Not one from its representatives who used to promote the company for its “responsible mining” came out to talk to the protesters.
Philex stockholders discussed the company’s sales, profits and prospects for continued operations. The firm reported that it has milled 611,801 tons since it resumed operations last March, producing 7,610 ounces of gold and 2.434 million pounds of copper from its Padcal operations.
Despite the suspension, Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan is confident that because they were allowed to (temporarily) resume operations, they will still post a profit in the first half of this year.
Following a massive mine spill in August last year, Philex’s operation was suspended by the government. Its tailings pond spilled about 21 metric tons of mines wastes, affecting rivers and a dam in northern Philippines.
The suspension was temporarily lifted for four months, or until July 7, against opposition of green groups who claim the company has not really addressed the cause and effects of the massive minespill.
Now Philex is hoping to turn the temporary lifting of suspension into a permanent one, as they set their sights on bigger sales and profits in the latter half of this year and the following years.
Philex’s damaging operations
Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said the company is on track to complete the mine’s rehabilitation and should be allowed to continue its operations in Benguet.
On the contrary, Philex’s operations must be stopped, the green groups insisted. Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, asked why Philex continues to operate when it has killed the Balog River, polluted the biggest multipurpose dam, and failed to pay its financial obligations to government institutions.
“Philex poses a great risk to the safety and lives of our communities in Benguet and Pangasinan provinces, even more so as the rainy season has started,” Clemente said. He told Bulatlat.com that there are no scientific evidences showing that the Balog river has been cleaned up (Philex is claiming it is now 98 percent cleaned). The green group, on the other hand, has evidences showing the river has been polluted by mine tailings.
The group of environmentalists had conducted an independent study on the Padcal Mining site of Philex and found that the company remains lacking in necessary safeguards to prevent another disaster from happening.
AGHAM, an organization advocating science and technology for the people, reiterates its call to the Aquino government to stop the operations of Philex. Feny Cosico of AGHAM who joined the technical team that conducted a study of the mine, said “Philex Dam is structurally compromised and unfit to be used for operation.”
Citing their findings, Cosico and the green groups urged the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) not to allow Philex to operate using its compromised tailings dam.
“No less than Philex-employed technical experts have said that the cause of the collapse of the tunnel inside the tailings pond cannot be ascertained. The government should first conduct its own comprehensive scientific study before it decides to allow mining operations in Padcal area,” Cosico said.
Will Philex build a new tailings pond? It said so based on reports regarding its stockholders’ meeting. But the construction, if it would be implemented indeed, would be done while Philex mining operation is in full swing. It will also depend on whether Philex will be able to get funding from the P12.3-billion stock offering it is planning to do. But from the same funding, Philex would also capitalize its other projects including its gold-copper exploration in Mindanao.
So far, reports revealed that the repairs and rehabilitation Philex had done to its damaged tailings pond consisted mainly of building a new spillway and plugging the pond’s holes. The said pond’s lifespan has also ended last year.
More profits for Philex, more mine wastes to be dumped on the people
“Now, with the excuse that it has not completed its dam rehabilitation, Philex once again wants to extend its operations. The real reason behind this is to rake in billions of pesos from their operation while subjecting our people to possibly another flooding and disaster,” Bautista warned.
Bautista asked Philex’s stockholders to place their money where it could earn but at the same time protect the environment. “There are more ecologically friendly businesses and better corporations where you can invest your money. We owe it to the next generation to provide them with a clean and livable environment. And besides, Philex is losing and owes money big time, ” Bautista added.
At the end of 2012, Philex reported a total net loss of P295 million ($6.8m). Also, NAPOCOR is demanding P6.42 billion ($148m) worth of damages from Philex for dumping mine wastes to the San Roque Multipurpose Dam. This is on top of the almost P200 million ($4.61m) fines imposed by the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) which Philex needs to pay.
On May 28, Napocor vice president and legal counsel Melchor Ridulme reportedly noted in a letter to Philex that some 13.5 million cubic meters of Philex mine waste had built up in the San Roque Multi-Purpose facility, damaging the vegetation in the San Roque Watershed Reservation, and reducing the dam’s capacity to hold water and produce energy.
Up to now, Napocor said the lodged mine waste has not yet been removed. Napocor reportedly gave Philex the option to clean up the mine waste in the reservoir if it cannot pay the P6.42-billion ($148m) worth of damages.