Monday, November 14, 2016

Albay exec asks DENR chief to check rehab plan of decommissioned mine site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay
By Jorge Hallare

LEGAZPI CITY, Nov. 14(PNA) —- A provincial government official of Albay is asking Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez to check if proper rehabilitation is being done at a decommissioned mine site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay, particularly in three villages, which were most disturbed by past mine activities.

Provincial Board Member Raul Rosal of the second district of Albay, who heads the environment committee of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Council), said they plan to present to Lopez the committee resolution on how the mine site could be properly revived, especially the most affected villages of Binosawan, Pagcolbon and Malobago in the island town of Rapu-Rapu.

The committee had initially addressed the resolution to the Contingent Liability on Rehabilitation Steering Fund Committee (CLRSFC) which is the government body overseeing the rehabilitation program in the mining site.

CLRSFC is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, its two attached agencies—Environmental Management Bureau and Mines and Geosciences Bureau; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and other government agencies.

In 2005, Australian-owned Lafayette Philippines Inc. established two subsidiaries--Rapu Rapu Minerals Inc (RRMI) and Rapu Rapu-Processing Inc. (RRPI) for its mining and processing activities in Rapu-Rapu, an island rich in copper, gold, zinc and silver reserves.

Two tailings spill, however, occurred in the project site in October 2005, which prompted investigations from the Philippine government while various local and national government bodies and nongovernment groups raised serious environmental and social concerns.

In 2008, economic woes forced Lafayette to sell its stakes in its Philippine operations. A consortium composed of LG International, Korea Resources Corp. and Malaysian Smelting Corp. took over and appointed RRMI and RRPI to run mine operations. This revitalized production.

In 2013, the mine was decommissioned. RRMI presently conducts mine rehabilitation activities for the “Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project” under the supervision of CLRSFC.

Rosal, in a recent interview, said the committee on environment has recommended that the disturbed 40 hectares with a “90-meter deep open pit mining area, which was the center of mining operation, to be fully backfilled.”

He said the rehabilitation plan showed the company will only backfill a depth of 60 meters and retain the depth of 30 meters.

“This will be extremely dangerous to the villagers who might be fall in the open pit or to anyone who will swim in the contaminated water,” said Rosal.

Christine May Baldeo, Mines and Geosciences Bureau information officer, in an interview, said the 90-meter deep open pit mining area will not be fully backfilled because it is filled with water contaminated with chemical solutions, which was used by the mining company during their five-year operation.

She said if the open pit will be fully backfilled the contaminated water might overflow into the creeks, watershed and rivers with the big possibility of affecting the water sources of villages around the area, including sea waters off the island.

Rosal added that during a recent ocular inspection in the area, it was discovered that the contaminated water of the open pit was pumped out from the mining tailings pond or storage area, which he said “was a clear violation of mining safety standards.”

He said RRMI under its president, Melvin Alonzo, who is in charge of the company’s rehabilitation program, should heed the committee on environment’s recommendations.

“We just want to follow the golden rule of safe mining here (which is) to have responsible mining," Rosal said.

He said the company should also put a half meter of fertilizer soil above the backfilled area to grow plants or trees.

Rosal added that the PHP200 million that has remained from the PHP310 million rehabilitation fund of the company will not be enough to fully sustain the 10-year rehabilitation program. The committee has recommended PHP1 billion to complete the rehabilitation program for the mine site.

Rosal said the committee on environment is hoping the government’s overseeing body, especially DENR and MGB, will take into consideration their recommendations.

He said he will “personally meet” with Lopez immediately “before it would be too late for all of us here.” (PNA) FPV/GVR/JHALLARE/EBP