MANILA, Philippines – Environmental activists picketed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City on Thursday in protest against its order permitting Philex Mining Corp. to resume operations in its Padcal facility.
About a dozen protesters belonging to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment threw mud at tarpaulins with the faces of President Benigno Aquino III, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and Philex chair Manuel V. Pangilinan.
The demonstrators voiced their objections to the four-month MGB permit allowing Philex, whose tailings pond facility leaked 20 million metric tons of sediments in Benguet last year, to resume operations as an “urgent remediation” measure.
MGB gave Philex four months to operate in order to remove the water inside its damaged Tailings Storage Facility No. 3 (TSF3). The agency said a total of 3.5 million metric tons of fresh mine tailings were needed to fill up and remove the water in the dam.
“The decision of MGB is condemnable. Philex operation will put the lives of mine workers and communities in grave danger,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan, said in a statement.
“The degraded environment in Benguet will be further devastated. Based on the MGB permit, the damaged tailings dam of Philex will be used again. This is totally unsafe and dangerous,” he said.
Engineer Vergel Aniceto of KATRIBU partylist said the Philex tailings dam was already “structurally compromised and should not be used again for mining operation.”
“The dam has reached its life span of 20 years. Before its collapse, it was overloaded with more than four million metric tons of mine wastes. It was supposedly decommissioned in 2012 yet Philex opted to extend the use of the dam, which resulted in its failure and several mine spills,” he said.
“The tailings dam is dangerous and should never be used again,” Aniceto said.
Philex constructed the TSF3 in 1992 after the dam failure of its TSF2.
In August, following heavy downpours caused by back-to-back storms, the tailings dam failed, causing 20 million metric tons of mine wastes to leak into river systems in the province.
As a result, the company was fined more than P1 billion.
“We cannot comprehend how an environmental bureau sees it safe to operate a compromised mining structure and trust. MGB’s excuse that the operation of Philex is needed to rehabilitate the tailing dam is pure hogwash,” Bautista said.
He said there were technologies available that would allow Philex to decommission the tailings dam without resuming its mining operations.
“This decision is a precursor for the full operation of Philex using TSF3 which will eventually subject our communities and environment to great disasters,” Bautista said.
“Instead of creating more toxic mine wastes to ‘rehabilitate’ the tailings dam the better option is to pump out the remaining water in the dam, fix the structural problem of the dam, then refill the dam with the more than 100 million metric tons tailings deposit in their storage facility,” Aniceto said.
“If they want to operate, Philex should construct a new tailings dam which is structurally stable and designed to withstand super typhoons and strong earthquakes,” he added.