By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Ric Saturay of the UP National Institute of Geological Science (NIGS) and Samahan ng mga nagtataguyod ng Agham (Agham) said that it is never the will of God that the Tailings Pond 3 (TP3) of Philex Mining Corporation in Padcal, Tuba, Benguet leaked and caused heavy damage both to the environment and the livelihood of the people.
Saturay stressed that the incident of leakage from the ponds is far from being a “Force Majeure”. He said it could have been prevented in the first place if only the mining company employed precautionary measures in its operations.
“Force Majeure” according to the Wikipedia means a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term act of God (such as hurricane, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc.)
Philex blamed the heavy rains brought by Typhoon “Gener” on the first weeks of August that caused the tailings pond to give way.
Tailings Pond 3, according to Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Deputy Secretary General Santos Mero, was commissioned in 1992. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimated its life span to be 18-20 years meaning it should cease from being used in the first half of this year 2012. Mero said Philex insisted on utilizing it until 2014.
With a power point presentation, Saturay showed and explained the breached portion of the penstock A of TP3. He said the breach is of a structural failure caused by material degradation and excess load from overlying tailings, and foundation failure, weakening of the ground beneath the penstock and also attributed to the excess load.
The geologist said Philex could have avoided these failures if only it employed periodic monitoring and maintenance of its facility and made sure that it will not exceed the load limit. He added that the company should have done ground investigation, monitoring, and treatment to ensure the pond’s foundation.
According to the report of the Mines and Geosciences Board (MGB), the total weight of discharge tailings reached 20 million Metric Tons (MT) of tailings in 50 day period or 400,000 MT a day. Saturay said this is 47 times bigger than the total trash of Metro manila which is 8,500 MT a day.
Mill tailings are materials whether solid, liquid or both segregated from the ores during concentration or milling operations, which have no present economic value. (DENR MO 99-32, Ch1, Sec6, Definitions).
The tailings spillage affected the Balog creek that flows to the Agno River that runs down from Itogon to the neighboring province of Pangasinan. MGB slapped Philex with a P1 billion fine basing it on a P50 per MT spillage.
Saturay said the immediate and after effects are not yet included. He recommended that an independent investigation body consisting of multi-sectoral groups and institutions should do deeper probe to look at the real damages caused by the incident.
Meanwhile, CPA reiterated its position of making the mining company accountable to the disaster caused by its failure to secure the safety of its operation and to pay the damages to the people affected. The organization also stated that MGB and the DENR should also be held liable for having permitted such irresponsible operations by mining companies like Philex.. CPA chairman Windell Bolinget said Philex operations should totally stop and fully rehabilitate what it destroyed and the tailings pond must be decommissioned. # nordis.net