Statements: DENR should ensure proper mine closure & rehabilitation of areas damaged by Lepanto


29 September 2016

We, members of Benguet-Abra-Mountain Province-Ilocos Sur (BAMPIS) Mining Watch, one of the many groups affiliated with the Save the Abra River Movement, are heartened by the announcement of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources that it has recommended the suspension of the operations of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company. The suspension order has yet to be served. But the announcement itself raises our hopes for an end to the mining operations that have been destroying our peoples’ lands, and polluting and silting up the Abra river and its tributaries, for the past 80 years.

When the DENR finally orders the suspension – hopefully, even the permanent shutdown – of Lepanto’s operations, it should also ensure the following.

1. The mines are properly closed.

Lepanto should immediately cease its tunnel driving and development works, which it is undertaking in collaboration with Gold Fields, in anticipation of the signing of a Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement with the state for their Far Southeast Gold Resources project.

Lepanto should backfill its tunnels. Its driving, development, and mining of these tunnels has caused tremors, and the cracking, subsibdence, and caving of the surface – e.g. in Aurora within the Poblacion of Mankayan, Benguet, where 50 square meters of the Mankayan National High School grounds caved in 2009; in Pacda and Tabbac within barangays Suyoc and Bulalacao, Mankayan, where the driving and development of the Nayac Twin Decline tunnels has generated so much ground subsidence that the floors and walls of houses have cracked and sank by as much as half a meter.

2. The proper measures are taken to decommission and stabilize the tailings dam.

Lepanto should immediately stop dumping mill waste into its tailings dam.

Lepanto has to de-water the tailings dam and make sure that it stays dry – e.g., by installing de-watering wells – so that its contents will stabilize. Lepanto also has to buttress the dam’s walls against slope failure. The company has to study, plan, and implement the best means for de-watering without further polluting the Abra river, and buttressing without resorting to quarrying the mountainsides surrounding the dam, as it has been doing these past years.

The above measures are important because the dam is poorly engineered and poses a great hazard to the people, farms, and general environment downslope and downstream. If it is simply abandoned, its contents will continue to pollute and silt up the Abra river, and there is no telling whether it will eventually collapse.

3. Areas damaged by Lepanto are rehabilitated.

The Abra river and some of its tributaries – e.g., the Apaoan river in Mankayan, the Suagayan river in Quirino – are already contaminated with acid drainage, polluted with toxic chemicals, and silted up with tailings from Lepanto’s mines, mill, and dam. The silt build up affects significant portions of Cervantes, Quirino, San Emilio, Caoayan, and Santa in Ilocos Sur; Tubo, Luba, Manabo, Bucay, Lagangilang, Dolores, San Juan, La Paz, Tayum, Bangued, Pidigan, and San Quintin in Abra province. It causes the Abra and some of this river’s tributaries to spill their banks during times of heavy rainfall. Silt borne by the floodwaters gets deposited on ricefields. Because of this, farmers in the said municipalities have lost hundreds of hectares of riceland.

We do not know whether scraping away or dredging the silt is feasible or even desirable. There is so much of it that there might be no place it could be dumped without causing more trouble.

But installing a river control system would help prevent further damage to ricelands. It will be worth studying the effectiveness of installing gabions along the riverbanks of the Abra and affected tributaries. The municipality of Quirino has installed some gabions along a 480-meter stretch of the Abra and a 500-meter stretch of the Suagayan. These can be evaluated, and if found effective, replicated.

Upstream in Mankayan, the backfilling of the mines will itself be rehabilitative.

We realize that mine closure, tailings dam decommissioning and stabilization, and the rehabilitation of damaged areas will be a complicated and expensive process. But Lepanto has already raked in billions of pesos from plundering Mankayan’s underground wealth, while causing billions of pesos worth of damage in the course of production and in dumping the waste it has generated. It is only right that the company shoulder the expense.

Although not yet legitimized by an FTAA for the Far Southeast Gold Resources project, Lepanto’s foreign partner, Gold Fields, has already contributed to the damage, and should thus shoulder some of the expense, especially in backfilling tunnels.

Social disruption – most recently caused by both Lepanto and Gold Fields in their maneuvering to obtain the consent of the indigenous people of Mankayan to the Far Southeast Gold Resources project – is damage that cannot be paid for. We can only ask that the two companies be denied their pending application for FTAA, and that they be penalized by being banned from mining in this country, especially in areas occupied by indigenous peoples. #


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