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Court orders Marcopper to pay for damages in 1993 mine spill

/ 12:36 AM May 25, 2022

marinduque

MANILA, Philippines — A Marinduque court has awarded damages to residents affected by a mine spill in 1993, after over two decades of waiting.

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In a decision dated May 16, 2022, made available to the media Tuesday, Marinduque Regional Trial Court Branch 38 Judge Emmanuel Recalde ordered Marcopper Mining Corp. to pay each of the 30 plaintiffs P200,000 in temperate damages and P100,000 in moral damages.

The case was filed in 2001.

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The court said the award for temperate damages is for the properties, crops, and livestock lost by each of the remaining plaintiffs while the award for moral damages is for the physical and mental suffering of the plaintiffs due to loss of livelihood and the continuous hazard posed by the Maguila-guila Dam.

In 1994, some of the plaintiffs already received a portion of the temperate damages through a memorandum of agreement.

“It was also established that Marcopper was negligent in the performance of its duty to conscientiously operate and maintain the Maguila-guila Dam that led to the over sedimentation of the facility causing the dam to breach thereby spilling floodwater containing silt into the Mogpog River to the damage and prejudice of the Plaintiffs,” read the court’s ruling.

The court also ordered Marcopper to pay the plaintiffs P1 million collectively as exemplary damage.

The plaintiffs are residents of Barangay Bocboc and Barangay Magapua, Mogpog in Marinduque.

In 1993, they were affected by a flood caused by following Typhoon Monang. After eight years, they filed a complaint against Marcopper saying that the flood in 1993 was due to the silt coming from the Maguila-guila Dam.

They also said that they continued to suffer due to the silt deposited at the Mogpog River and the areas surrounding it.

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In its answer, Marcopper said that, assuming that there was a cause of action, the claims of the residents were made past the prescription period — the time allowed for legal action.

In its ruling, the court agreed that, under the law, a quasi-delict or a tort has a prescription period of four years.

A quasi-delict or a tort refers to acts or omissions by one party that cause damage to another, there being fault or negligence. The party at fault is obliged to pay for the damages.

“General propositions do not decide specific cases. Laws are interpreted in the context of facts. Each case has its own flesh and blood. It cannot be ruled upon on the basis of isolated clinical classroom principles,” the court said.

It explained that the residents suffered wounds and rashes when they came in contact with the water from the river. At the same time, the residents continued to suffer due to decreasing crop production because of large deposits of mud and silt.

The plaintiffs also mentioned the concept of “continuing wrong” or persistent breach, citing American jurisprudence.

“The very existence of the Maguila-guila Dam is a threat in itself placing a continuing duty on Marcopper to ensure that another disaster will not occur,” the court said adding that such a concept, while it is not binding in the Philippines, it “nevertheless, has a persuasive effect to the Court in arriving at a decision.”

The court added that the facts of the case did not solely constitute an action for tort but for abatement, which under the law states that lapse of time cannot be legalized.

While Marcopper has stopped its operation, the court said the Maguila-guila Dam still exists and its structure is deteriorating.

To date, the Maguila-guila Dam continues to be a threat to the lives and livelihood of the inhabitants of the barangays along the Mogpog River.

During the trial, the residents also presented an expert witness who said that he was not aware if there were any inspections or maintenance of the dam or any effort to rehabilitate the river.

“The Court gives credence and more weight to such testimony considering that Marcopper has not presented evidence to refute [the witness’] declaration,” the court added.

The court, however, did not rule on the bid to rehabilitate the Mogpog River as a similar case is pending before the Court of Appeals.

The Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC) welcomes the court ruling.

“This is a victory for the plaintiffs who had waited two decades for justice as much as it is for the other plaintiffs who had unfortunately died in the course of this case. We celebrate this ruling and thank Judge Emmanuel Recalde for taking up cudgels for the survivors and the environment,” said Elizabeth Manggol of the MACEC.

“Large-scale mining projects present inevitable damage. The Marcopper disaster is a warning we should heed with the ongoing and planned large-scale projects in the country. The existing Mining Act is problematic. The alternative minerals management bill (AMMB) is urgently needed to safeguard the environment from mining and prevent disasters like this,” said Attorney E.M. Taqueban, executive director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC).

LRC, a non-governmental organization that provides free legal services to communities entangled in resource rights issues, served as the legal counsel of the plaintiffs.

“This emblematic case should serve as a warning for communities who wish to embrace mining. Litigating mining-related cases like this celebrated case is a slow march to justice. Communities must think their decisions through for the impact of the environment can be irreversible. In the case of Marinduque, the river affected by the spill is all but dead. With this ruling, Judge Recalde has shown that environmental cases do have a fighting chance in our judicial system,” said Attorney Ryan Roset, direct legal services coordinator of LRC.

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