The year was 1969, Marcopper Mining Corporation (MMC) began their mining operation in Marinduque, Philippines. With a $40-million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Placer Dome, Inc., promising 30,000 tons of run-of-mine output per day. Placer Dome, which is 40% owner of MMC, secured and guaranteed the loans from the ADB.
During its operation, the Marinduqueños experienced a series of environmental mining-related disasters.
In spite of numerous actions made by local communities and non-government organizations (NGOs), and surviving cease-and-desist orders by the National Pollution Control Commission during the Martial Law, MCC continued its operation. It was later found out that 50% of the company was owned by the late president Ferdinand Marcos through four front companies. (Roja Salvador, 2001)
Later on the ADB and Placer Dome agreed to transfer the bank’s interest to MR Holdings, Ltd., which is a company created by Placer based in the Cayman Islands. (Keith Damsell, May 1999) Around US$20 million was paid to the ADB. After the payment of the outstanding loan and return of the Covenant, the project documents at the Bank were no longer accessible. ADB stated that it is no longer involved in the project and the project is not covered by the 1994 Information Disclosure Policy. (James Esguerra, July 2003).
The ADB washed off its hands from the tragedy.
For 16 years, Marcopper dumped 200 million tons of mine tailings in Calancan Bay via surface disposal. This was done without the consent of the villagers whose main source of food and livelihood rely on the bay. The mine spill covered 80 square kilometers of the rich corals and sea grasses of the bay.
This affected 2,000 fishing families, leaving them in the brink of starvation. (Catherine Coumans, 2005) Houses and rice fields were covered with dust storms.
A dam was constructed in the Maguila-Guila Creek in 1991 inspite of the protests by the local communities because of its potential negative impact on their food source and water. The project aimed to hold back the contaminated silt from the San Antonio pit.
After two years, the dam collapsed. Downstream villages were flooded, houses were swept away, livestock, poultry, and crops were destroyed.
Two children were also swept by the flash flood. The collapse of the dam did not only cause contamination of the river but also eruption of skin diseases, plastic anemia and metal poisoning of the villagers. (Aguillon, 2004) Placer Dome denied its responsibility, blaming the tragedy to typhoon Lando. However, the rehabilitation of the dam included an overflow, which is in a way acknowledging that faulty engineering caused the disaster. (Coumans, 2005) Bagtuk, a specie of crab that people consume for subsistence, completely disappeared after the tragedy.
Massive tailings spilled into the 26-km long Boac River in 1996. The river was contaminated with three to four million tons of metal enriched and acid generating tailings immediately after a badly-sealed drainage tunnel at the base of Tapian pit burst. This translated to around 1.6 million liters of waste that spilled into the river, killing the river instantly.
This prompted a team from the United Nations to investigate the extent of the impact that the Marinduque Mine Spill, as what the tragedy has been called ever since, has caused the environment and the townsfolk. UN identified unacceptable levels of heavy metals in some parts of the river and toxic wastes leaching into the river due to faulty waste rock siltation of the dam.
The Department of Health and the University of the Philippines (DOH-UP) the following year,
1997, conducted health studies and concluded heavy metal contamination due to the use of the river as run-off for Marcopper’s disposal site since the 1970s.(Aguillon, 2004) The DOH-UP investigative team found out unacceptable lead and mercury level in seven of the 22 children tested; two adults tested positive for lead contamination. They also collected blood, air and soil samples in and 7 km out from the causeway.
All of the 59 children tested proved to have unacceptable levels in their blood; 25 percent of them had unacceptable blood cyanide levels. Also, the soil samples have unacceptable levels of lead, cadmium and elevated levels of copper and zinc. Lead values were present in the air samples, exceeding the standards of the US Environmental Protection Agency. (Aguillon, 2004)
Placer Dome spent almost US$80 million for compensation, medical treatment, infrastructure development, river rehabilitation, flood risk assessment and water projects. However, it still maintains its position that it has no responsibility for the tragedies in Calancan Bay and Mogpog River, claiming these events as accidents.
The people of Marinduque will forever be reminded of this tragedy and how the funder of the project bailed out on them when things starts crumbling down. Then we ask the question #isADBgoodorbad?
Aguillon, Rowil. “Mining Debt: A Victim’s Point of View.” 1/31/04. (www.jubileesouth.org/journal/mining.htm)
Esguerra, James. “Case Study Four: Marcopper Mining Corporation (Philippines).” ADB and the Environment: A Monitoring Framework for the ADB’s Environment Policy. PRRM, NGO Forum on ADB: Manila, 2003.
Salvador, Roja. “Undermined.” Community & Habitat. Is. 9. PRRM: Manila. 2001.
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