Where did $12M Boac River cleanup fund go?By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
Where is the $12-million escrow fund for the rehabilitation of the Boac River in Marinduque?
The question was raised by a former provincial board member of the island-province 12 years after the $12-million escrow fund was set up to rehabilitate the Boac River, which remains damaged by the Marcopper Mining Corp. spills of 1996—the country’s worst toxic mine waste spill in the last two decades.
The $12-million fund set up by Placer Dome Inc. in November 2001 was part of the mining company’s commitment to then President Fidel V. Ramos for the “cleanup and remaining works” on the 27-kilometer Boac River, said Melecio Go, a former board member of Marinduque.
The Vancouver-based Placer Dome Inc. was the former parent company of Marcopper, which shut down after the 1996 toxic spill that flooded several villages in Marinduque. In 2006, Placer Dome Inc. sold its shares to the global gold-mining firm, Barrick.
The Marinduque government, through Gov. Carmencita Reyes and her son former Rep. Edmund Reyes, filed a $100-million class suit against Placer Dome in October 2005. The case filed in a district court in Nevada has yet to prosper, said Go.
$3M for sandbags
“But this is different from the suit, as (the escrow) already belongs to Marinduque,” Go said.
Go, who chaired the provincial board’s committee on environment protection from 2004 to 2007, said the original cleanup amount was $15 million, but $3 million was deducted from it when the company placed “sand bags” in the upstream portion of the Boac River.
Go called it a “cosmetic” cleanup, as the rest of the river has not yet been cleared of the toxic waste.
In an interview, Go showed copies of the 2005 correspondence between him and former Marcopper president John Loney.
In Loney’s June 14, 2005, letter to the provincial board, he said the amount was deposited “under an escrow agreement with a financial institution to secure payments … and that the release of those funds is subject to safeguards…”
“The work completion agreement and the escrow agreement are binding contracts and (Placer Dome) intends to honor its commitments,” he said.
A 2006 Inquirer report quoted Marinduque board member Alan Nepomuceno as saying that the $12 million was deposited in a bank in Hong Kong “known only to selected government and Marcopper officials.”
In that same report, Nepomuceno said Governor Reyes assured them that the fund was intact.
The Inquirer on Sunday tried to seek comment from Governor Reyes but she was in a meeting and referred the matter to Edmund.
But Edmund, now a director of the Toll Regulatory Board, failed to take calls made by the Inquirer to his mobile phone on Sunday and Monday.
No politics here
Go, who ran for Marinduque vice governor but lost to a party mate of the Reyeses in the Liberal Party last May, denied politics was involved in the matter.
In a phone interview Monday, Edmund Reyes’ lawyer Miguel Ongsiako confirmed that there was such an escrow fund intended for the cleanup of the Boac River but the agreement was entered into by the national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Barrick, the company that acquired Placer Dome Inc.
“The province and the governor had no involvement in that [escrow agreement],” said Ongsiako, noting that the province had never benefited from the escrow funds.