By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY — As Philex Mining Corporation was recently awarded by Forbes Asia its “Best Under A Billion Award”, it is also urged to use a part of its billion prize to clean up the Balog River in Benguet that it allegedly polluted with a million tons mine waste.
Santos Mero, deputy secretary-general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance(CPA), said that with the financial standing of Philex and its latest award from Forbes, it should suspend its operation and use part of its prize for the rehabilitastion of the Balog Creek and the Agno River of Benguet.
These water systems were polluted by the 20.6 million metric tons of mine waste spilled from its tailings pond 3 of Philex Padcal mines when the walls of the tailing dam gave in.
Reportedly, Philex has a market capitalization of $ 2.72 billion. The company and its subsidiaries are engaged in the production of gold, copper, silver, petroleum and coal. As of July, it posted a sales of $349 million.
Forbes Asia honors small and medium-sized companies from Asia Pacific whose annual revenue are between $5 million and $1 billion, considered sales growth, earnings growth, and return on equity over three years.
Mero pointed out that the company should “walk the talk” on its responsible mining program by sharing a part of its income for the clean up and rehabilite the Balog Creek and the Agno River.
“Kahit isang taon na isuspend ng Philex ang kanyang operasyon, kayang kaya niya dahil sa laki ng kanyang kita,” Mero said in Filipino.
He said that Philex has an income of 40 million pesos per day or 1.2 billion pesos per month. Even if it excludes the P 32 million per month salaries of its employees, Philex will still have a 600 million pesos income per month, he added.
It can be recalled that on August 1 after typhoon Gener, 20.6 million metric tons mine wastes spilled from the damaged Philex Tailing Dam 3 and found its way to the Balog Creek and to the Agno River.
The mine tailings diluted into the water and was carried downstream. “The pollution of the Balog Creek has rendered it a biologically dead one.” Mero explained, “this means that no living organism can survive in the river.”
He pointed out that the bulk of tailings logically was impounded in the San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam reservoir. The livelihood of the people of Pangbasan, Dalupirip, Itogon, Benguet is dislocated due by the mine spills, added Mero.
“The panning areas in the river are all covered by the tailings waste. Those dependent on gold panning have no more livelihood to support their families,” he explained.
Prior to the mine spill, Mero said that in a span of one week, a panner can pan at least five grams a week. As one gram is sold at P 2,000, a panner’s income a week can be P10,000.
The same with those dependent on fishing. A group, with at least three families, can have an income of P40,000 a week from fishing tilapia and igat (eel).
“The 34 or so families in Pangbasan cannot earn this large an income anymore due to the tailings that covered their waterways. And worst, Philex and the government has done nothing to address their livelihood loss which is an added disaster to these people,” Mero explained.
Environmentalists claimed that the Philex mine spill tragedy is the worst in the history of mine spills in the Philippines. They said that the mining laws are lax with the mining companies and the people suffer most from the effect of the environment’s destruction.
“The 20.6 million metric tons spilled from Philex Tailings Dam 3 is massive when compared to the Marinduque spill of 1.6 million metric tons,” they said in their recently concluded environmental investigative mission on Philex mine spill. # nordis.net