Irreversible: envionmental costs of large-scale mining

November 8, 2012

by superadmin

IBON Featues | 8 November 2012 | Through the years, large-scale mining has caused deforestation and pollution as well as irreversible destruction to the ecology

IBON Features– For spilling more than 15 million cubic meters of mine sediments from its Padcal mine tailings ponds in August, the Philex Mining Corporation figured in the news again.

The leakage from the Benguet project site is feared to cause more destruction than the controversial 1996 Marcopper spillage in Marinduque. The Marcopper Mining Corporation released 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings that silted and killed the 27-kilometer Boac River and more than 823 hectares of productive riceland. Many years later, it was observed that cases of human deformities among families residing along contaminated rivers were still present.

This is not the first time that Philex became involved in an environmental case. In the 1980s, Philex left its open-pit mining site in Tublay, Benguet without rehabilitating the area where all water sources were destroyed. In 1997, toxic waste including residues of cyanide solution coming from Philex Mining’s Zamboanga del Norte site contaminated a nearby bay as well as irrigation systems.

Though so-called mutant tilapias were found in San Roque Dam through which waters contaminated by Philex flows, the company insists that the tailings are not toxic to humans. While it faces the possible cancellation of its Environmental Clearance Certificate and faces several fines payable to the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the mining firm claims to have plugged the leak and plans to resume activity next year.


The book ‘Globalizing Philippine Mining’ (2002) sums up the problem by describing that “a mining industry that is now liberalized to global plunderers whose competition has become more intense, plus a government that apparently only hopes to gain from mineral exports, are a sure formula for environmental havoc.”

Through the years, whether in supposed abidance by the Mining Law of 1905, the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or even under the impending mining reform law Executive Order (EO) 79, large-scale mining has caused deforestation and pollution as well as destruction to the ecology.

Subsidence, a major effect of underground mining, has sunk entire community structures and villages. In June 2009, a number of families were forced to evacuate when land surrounding the Mankayan Central School sank by 10 meters, following incidents of land falling into apparent voids from initial cracks. A month later, the damaged area diameter of 40 meters would expand to at least 120 meters due to continuous sinking in the whereabouts of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation’s (LCMC) bulk-mining operations. Since the 1970s, various degrees of subsidence have occurred in LCMC’s Benguet mine. In 1994, Lepanto operations were revealed to have accelerated the sinking of portions of the Poblacion of Mankayan by the rate of one centimeter per year. For three years since 1999, houses have also sunk by 18 inches.

The company has been reported to be reneging on its responsibility to back-fill its diggings. Yet, the LCMC as well as the MGB have described the subsidence as natural due to the fault lines along which the town stands – and not due to mining.

In Benguet, mine tailings also polluted major rivers, killing aquatic resources, curtailing food production and disturbing livelihood systems thus pushing natives to seek work outside their villages. In Cagayan, rising sea level and flooding along riverbanks, as well as fisherfolk’s reduced catch and income, are being attributed to black-sand or magnetite mining.

Despite the many cases of environmental destruction due to large-scale mining, the US$9-billion Tampakan Gold Copper Project, operated by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), is awaiting government approval to start its commercial operations. So far, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has withheld environmental clearance for the open-pit mining project that will clear at least 3,935 hectares of forests and productive land along the tri-boundaries of Tampakan, South Cotabato; Kiblawan, Davao del Sur; and Columbio, Saranggani.

With a volcano a few kilometers away, the mining waste which the Eduardo Cojuangco-owned SMI plans to stack up on a nearby mountain is feared to affect a farming community should the operation’s dams fail. About 1,000 families mostly from the B’laan tribe are also set to be displaced and relocated once the operations begin. The operations will also affect the water supply and irrigation systems covering 200,000 farm hectares for 80,000 farmers in South Cotobato alone. Moreover, it threatens the Mal River which caters to 22 irrigation systems covering 13,968 farm hectares.


As of mid-2012, government has approved more than 700 mining tenements nationwide covering 1.14 million hectares – at least 100,000 hectares more since 2010. These are found in mineral-rich forests, arable lands or ancestral domains. Also recently, the Philippine government through the MGB gave participants of the United Nations Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development a glimpse of EO 79 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). It pledged to ensure the protection of the environment and communities specifically those of the indigenous peoples, the equitable distribution of mining activity proceeds or revenues, and the promotion of economic development.

Yet, government also suspended the IRR late in September due to big mining industry players’ questions on certain provisions, such as those listing more areas closed to mining and the possible disqualification of companies with records in environmental incidents. Last month, the DENR signed a revised IRR which stipulated a moratorium in granting new mineral agreements – but only until Congress passes a law stating higher revenue shares in favor of government.

Critics have called the revised IRR as inadequate in screening which mining operations may be sound not only financially but in terms of the protection of the environment, communities and livelihood. More importantly, the mining EO and IRR fall dismally short in ensuring that mining contributes to the country’s industrial path and will work for the economy, and not for profit

. Challenging the large-scale mining operations in the country is the growing number of local governments imposing bans on large-scale mining in the name of environmental protection and their municipalities’ welfare. Some of these are in Capiz, Guimaras, Romblon, Negros Occidental, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Marinduque, Western Samar, Northern Samar, Batangas, and South Cotabato. There is also a resounding clamor for responsible mining by various people’s organizations and communities now in more than 50 provinces nationwide. These are clear indications that despite efforts to appease the people against large-scale mining, they continue to oppose the plunder of the country’s mining resources. IBON Features