Philex Mining Corp. voluntarily shut down its Padcal operations on Aug. 1, when an accidental discharge of water and sediment was discovered at its tailing pond in Itogon, Benguet province, amid heavy rains from Typhoon “Gener” (international name: Saola).
A tailings dam is the repository of all chemicals and sediments disposed of in the course of mine operations.
Allaying public fears, the firm said the discharge from the leak contained nontoxic water and sediments.
The company also said it deployed a cleanup crew at the affected waterways of the Agno River and tapped domestic and foreign consultants to develop a rehabilitation plan.
Following the leak, which was stopped “in less than 48 hours,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told the media that under national mining laws, Philex could be fined with at least P325 million for discharging up to 6.5 million tons of sedimentation.
Under the Mining Act of 1995, each ton of waste spilled shall correspond to a P50 fine.
Paje later revised his estimates before the press, saying the firm’s penalty could run up to over P1 billion because of six additional spills in its facility.
Mike Toledo, Philex Mining Corp. senior vice president for corporate affairs, described the penalties as “premature and a violation of due process,” and hit Paje for making media pronouncements about the firm’s penalties when the company itself had not been informed of it.
Toledo said the incident was due to “force majeure” because of “historically unprecedented heavy rains” that reached 331.80 millimeters (mm), exceeding only by 88.30 mm Padcal’s 50-year rainfall record of 234.50 mm.
On Sept. 26, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it wrote a letter to the mining firm, demanding P1.034 billion in penalties for over 20 million metric tons of mine tailings that spilled from Philex’s facility.
Philex contested the penalty saying the incident was something beyond its control.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) confirmed that based on two sets of tests in August and September, fish in the San Roque Dam were free from heavy metal contamination.
BFAR said the fish contained traces of arsenic and mercury but these did not exceed safe levels.
On Nov. 21, the MGB denied Philex’s appeal and ordered the firm to settle its penalty within 45 days.
MGB Director Leo Jasareno said Philex “had the opportunity to prepare and check the operations and stability of its mine structures and facilities.
The safety standard regulations call for a routine and periodic inspection of such structures and facilities, especially if the weather condition requires extraordinary care and maintenance works.”
Toledo said the firm would file another appeal and would exhaust all available remedies and reiterate that there was no negligence on the part of the firm. Inquirer Research
Source: Inquirer Archives