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Philex mishap clouds mining conference set in Baguio City next month

5 mine firms bond for spill cleanup

BAGUIO CITY—An official of the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) said engineers and geologists from at least five mining companies in the country will help in the rehabilitation of the waterways contaminated by wastes that leaked from the tailings pond of Philex Mining Corp. in Benguet in August.

Louie Sarmiento, PMSEA president, said the mining industry was sad about the situation of Philex, a major gold and copper producer, because the company is considered a model for responsible mining in the Philippines.

In September, Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials said Philex could face about P1 billion in fines for the spills in its Padcal facility in Itogon town. Philex disputed the figure.

Sarmiento said no one wanted the accident to happen.

“As an organization, we are saddened because Philex is one of the most responsible mining companies in the country, and we never wanted that kind of accident to happen. It’s a good thing that we have a committee now that will help address this problem and which offered the technical assistance to them,” Sarmiento said in a press forum on Tuesday to announce the holding of the annual mine safety conference here this week.

Sarmiento said officials of some mining companies were bothered by the Philex incident and suggested that the conference not be held in Baguio.

“A month before the conference, many were asking why we had to hold the conference in Baguio, and we said we do not want to run away from the problem. We are here to reaffirm our commitment,” Sarmiento said.

He said experts from several mining companies have volunteered their services to help in the cleanup of Balog Creek in Itogon, where the wastes were discharged, and in the design and other technical aspects of the waste disposal system of Philex.

Balog Creek is a tributary of Agno River, which is the source of water of San Roque Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan.

Sarmiento commended Philex for admitting responsibility for the leak and for exerting efforts to plug the leak in its Tailings Pond No. 3. The firm had also committed to clean up and rehabilitate the waterways where the tailings were discharged.

But on Wednesday, members of militant groups staged a protest rally to condemn Philex and other mining companies for their allegedly unsafe practices that put the environment and communities in danger.

The protesters went to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau office here to submit the initial results of their fact-finding investigation on the impact of the Philex tailings pond leak on the outlying communities and waterways in Itogon.

“As the government and mining companies brag about mine safety during their mining conference this week, we reiterate our position against destructive mining and its accompanying militarization and human rights violations,” said Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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Tags: Baguio , Mining , Philex

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