‘NO TO MINING.’
Signs bearing these words are common on Marinduque. The signs are nailed to trees, on fences and shelters, and the slogan is painted in large letters on the front wall of a school.
This is a community of resistance. There is no way a mining company could convince anyone here that they would benefit from the activity.
In 1993, the tailings dam from the Marcopper mine, in the central highlands of Marinduque, overflowed into the Boac River. The town of Mogpog was flooded with toxic materials. Two children died, as well as livestock and millions of creatures who lived in and near the river. The river was declared biologically dead, and may never recover. None of the residents of Mogpog, or the fishers or farmers whose livelihoods were destroyed by the incident, received any compensation. The disaster was called an accident, and the mining company was not held accountable.
Mining began in the 1960s, by Marcopper Mining Corporation, managed by Placer Dome, and secretly part-owned by Ferdinand Marcos. Despite objections from the community and NGOs, mining continued for 30 years. Tailings from the mine were continually dumped into Calacan Bay, damaging the reef and seagrass, and causing metal contamination chronic lead poisoning in those—humans and sealife—who live in and by the bay.
In 1996, a second disaster occurred, as a drainage tunnel from the mine’s waste disposal pit cracked, causing flash flooding and spilling over a million cubic metres of mine tailings into rivers. The Philippines president declared the province of Marinduque a ‘State of Calamity’.
People in Marinduque are fishers and farmers, completely dependent on the land, rivers and sea for their food and livelihood. The disasters left many people in a state of near-starvation.
Toxic waste from the tailings dam continues to overflow into the Boac River. People buy in drinking water, as the river water is undrinkable.
Randy took us to the highlands to see the mine, and meet a former worker who could show us around. We saw the abandoned mining camp and equipment, and the remains of Mount San Antonio. The rest of the mountain has gone down river in the tailings. The person we had planned to meet wasn’t home, so we didn’t get to see the mine close up.
The Marinduque community are taking legal action against the mine, but have many factors against them. The case is being heard in Nevada, so the courts have limited awareness of how local people are affected. The lawyers representing the community give them little information about how the case is progressing. Judgements on how much compensation should be given are made by the US Geological Survey, not an organisation that is aware of local conditions. The mining companies constantly change their names and ownership, to avoid liability. They also argue that they should not be held accountable for an accident, which they claim is caused by rainfall patterns rather than engineering. When the municipal government is compensated, the money doesn’t necessarily go to the people affected.
Placer Dome abandoned the mine in 1997, and no longer operates in the Philippines, so not subject to legal action under Philippine law. The province of Marinduque is taking legal action in Nevada, as they are unlikely to be successful in Canada, where Barrick Gold, the company that bought Placer Dome, is based.
The Philippine government is not supporting the province, as it sees the legal action as being against its ‘open for business’ policy.
Barrick Gold has offered a $20million compensation, on the condition that they are not held accountable for the disaster. The community has vowed not to accept the conditions.
University researchers looking into bioremediation have received threats from the mining company. Scientists don’t study the contamination any more, because of the threats. For the mining companies, this lack of scientific evidence of contamination is used to show that no crime has been committed on their part.
A community organisation, Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MaCEC) formed for community organising against the mine. The promise of compensation money has compromised the vision of the organisation, which has changed course from its original aim, and now focuses on planning Disaster Risk Management.
I’m going to end by quoting MaCEC’s new strategy, which is brilliantly awful. This is evidence enough of how vested interests co-opt and misdirect the energy of environmental organisations.
MaCEC has its battle cry which serves as its inspirational wisdom as it continuously commits itself to make a difference in the small-island province of Marinduque. The battle cry also serves as the summary of its own programs and strategic interventions: “HEAR and AF(F)IRM to LEAP the RIDGE and REACH our DREAM!”
- Human rights Engagement & Advocacy for Reclaiming environmental justice program (HEAR)
- Disaster Risk & Enhanced Alternative livelihood Management program (DREAM)
- Restoring Integrity of Development Governance for community Empowerment program (RIDGE)
- Leaders’ Enhanced Accountability and Participation program for lay empowerment (LEAP)
- Administrative, Financial & Institutional Re-engineered Management program (AFIRM)
- Retooling Employees to Achieve Competence and proper Housekeeping program (REACH)