MANILA, PHILIPPINES AND LETHBRIDGE, CANADA — Canadian companies are major players in the global mining industry, and so it’s no surprise that they have more than made their presence felt in the Philippines. Unfortunately, that presence has not always been welcome — at least not by the immediate host communities. Worse, Canadian mining firms have acquired a notorious reputation in the Philippines, and there are indications that this is not about to change anytime soon.
WHEN THE Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC) received notice in 2007 that the case filed by the province of Marinduque against Placer Dome Inc. and Barrick Gold in the U.S. state of Nevada had been dismissed, MACEC executive secretary Miguel Magalang almost did not want to release the news.
“Baka bumagsak ang morale ng buong anti-mining movement (The whole anti-mining movement might lose its morale),” he explains.
In Mogpog, residents who have to cross the river already complain of chronic skin lesions and the darkening of the skin on their toes. Aside from containing silt from the 1993 dam spill, Mogpog River was also used by Marcopper “as a disposal site for the acidic liquid of the mine tailings,” says environmental scientist Emelina Regis in a 2006 paper on the impact of acid mine drainage on the river and the surrounding community.
Calancan Bay, meanwhile, was the recipient of about 200 million tons of mine tailings dumped there by Marcopper between 1975 and 1991. And here in Boac, data from the Placer Dome Technical Services Ltd. (PDTS) — set up to manage the remediation arrangements after Placer Dome Inc. left — say that there are still some 703,228 cubic meters of mine tailings in the Makulapnit and Boac river system, with about 75 percent of this figure in the dredge channel. The rest are scattered throughout the two rivers.
BOAC, MOGPOG, AND STA. CRUZ, MARINDUQUE — A neat tapestry of Spanish-style houses, old churches, beaches, and rows of coconut trees that never seem to end characterizes this island province southeast of Manila.
The key word here is “neat.” Along the main road that connects all six towns in the island, huts big and small are all tidied up, each yard spic and span. “It’s not an order or anything, it’s just how things are here,” says one resident. “Bakuran mo, linis mo. Ganoon kasimple (Your yard, you clean it up. It’s that simple).”
CALANCAN BAY, MARINDUQUE — In its first 20 years in the Philippines, the Marcopper Mining Corp. is estimated to have earned more than $1 billion. During the same period, the company also contributed as much as P18.5 billion to the national government’s coffers.
MOGPOG, MARINDUQUE — The San Antonio Mine run by the Marcopper Mining Corp. has been closed for three years now, but residents of Boac are not the only ones with a dead river to remind them of the damage the company’s managers have inflicted on them. Here in Mogpog, a coastal town that is about a 20-minute drive from Boac, the major river is also so heavily polluted with mine waste that its precarious condition is visible even to the most casual observer.
BOAC, MARINDUQUE — TODAY MARKS the third death anniversary of the Boac River, this town’s major water system, which residents once used as a source of food, irrigation and water for livestock. Three years ago, more than three million tons of concrete-like mine waste burst forth from a badly-sealed drainage tunnel and choked off all life in the 26-km. long Boac River. The river flooded in various locations, inundating cropland and causing people to flee their homes. Two villages were cut off entirely and had to be evacuated by helicopter. Then President Fidel Ramos declared the whole island of Marinduque—some 170 km. south of Manila—a calamity zone.