Philippine Congressman takes on Placer Dome

Congressman Edmund Reyes from the province of Marinduque is a member of the delegation of Philippine President Arroyo during her official visit to Canada (January 29-30). He warns about the imminent danger to thousands of lives as a result of Placer Dome's mining in his island province.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has invited Congressman Reyes to be part of her official delegation when she visits Canada on January 29-30. While in Canada, Congressman Reyes will discuss the serious environmental and health problems his people are facing after almost thirty years of mining by Placer Dome in Marinduque.

"Just before Christmas, Placer Dome fled our country like a thief in the night. Their mine managers have a criminal indictment against them, Placer has refused to attend a Congressional Inquiry looking into their conduct and they have ignored a direct order by our Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources to save lives on my island," Reyes says. "Placer Dome's track record has made us wary of dealing with Canadian mining companies. This company gives Canada a black eye."

In 1996, there was a massive mine waste spill into the Boac River. Placer Dome's then-CEO promised then-Philippine President Fidel Ramos that Placer Dome would clean up the river and compensate affected villagers, even though the company divested from Marcopper one year after the spill. Almost six years later the river still contains almost a million cubic metres of mine waste that is leaching out acids and heavy metals. Thousands of villagers who were promised compensation have received nothing.

On October 9, 2001 a Congressional Inquiry was called to look into the delays in the river clean up and compensation payments. The evening before the Inquiry a letter from Vancouver-based engineering firm Klohn Crippen was leaked to Congressman Reyes. This letter refers to alarming findings in a June 14th report Klohn Crippen provided to Placer Dome that warns that five structures that hold back thousands of tons of toxic mine waste in the mountains are likely to fail causing "the potential for loss of life." Placer Dome refused to attend the Congressional Inquiry. Three days later the Philippine government issued an order to Placer Dome to implement the recommendations of the Klohn Crippen report.

Rather than comply with this order, Placer Dome packed up its offices in Marinduque and Manila and pulled its personnel out of the Philippines just before Christmas. Rather than clean up the river, as the company had promised, it made new confidential agreements with the owners of Marcopper making them responsible for the river clean up, even though Placer Dome has described Marcopper as "near insolvent" Placer Dome says the mine waste will be returned to the pit they escaped from in 1996. But Klohn Crippen has warned that the pit is already in a state of imminent collapse from the waste piled in it.

Provincial Board Member Adeline Angeles asks "what will happen to our concerns on health and compensation? If those who have done us wrong will just run away, how can the government defend the cause of the Marinduque people?"

For more information, contact:

Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, tel. (613) 569-3439, e-mail: [email protected]

Philippines Congressman Edmund Reyes

Statement for Press Conference

28 January, 2002

Good Morning to you all! Imagine, if you will, being forced into a situation where you lived in a house with your little children and a contractor puts a huge swimming pool up on your roof. You then suddenly receive a secret report that says the roof can cave in at anytime and the water can drown you and your children who live below! What makes it even worse, is that the contractor decides to pack up and leave without asking you and refers the repair work to a near penniless contractor with no track record. How would you feel if you had no other place to live? If you feel desperate, you have just put yourselves in the shoes of Myke Magalang, Adeline Angeles, Beth Manggol and almost 100,000 villagers of my home province of Marinduque in the Philippines.

I have come to Canada to talk about the activities of a Canadian mining company, Placer Dome, in my country the Philippines. Even as I speak to you, these almost 100,000 villagers face the threat of death from massive flooding caused by thousands of tons of mine waste that is stored behind five failing dams and structures, high in the mountains of Marinduque. We learned of this imminent danger through an urgent letter from Placer Dome's own environmental consultants Klohn Crippen, who are based in Vancouver.

The letter says "failure of the dam is a virtual certainty in the near term" leading to "potential loss of life." This "secret" letter was dated August 23 of last year and was furnished to Placer Dome Technical Services, but we only found out about the danger we faced when this letter was leaked to us on October 8th of last year, a day before a Congressional Inquiry into Placer Dome's conduct in Marinduque. Klohn Crippen's report had been delivered to Placer Dome as early as June 14th. In this study Klohn Crippen warn that immediate remedial action must be taken to save the lives of villagers living down stream from these faulty dams. But no action was taken, causing Klohn Crippen to follow up their report with their letter of August 23.

Since becoming aware of the Klohn Crippen study in October, we repeatedly asked Placer Dome for a copy of the report. Placer Dome repeatedly told us the study was confidential. It therefore turns out that not only did Placer Dome fail to implement the recommendations in the Klohn Crippen report, to protect human lives, but Placer Dome also refused to inform us of the grave danger we faced. On October 11, our Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Secretary Alvarez, who is also here in Ottawa now, ordered Placer Dome to start to implement the recommendations of the Klohn Crippen report within 15 days, or face criminal action. Rather than comply, Placer Dome suddenly, without any form of consultation with Marinduquenos or the Philippine government, pulled its personnel out of Marinduque and out of Manila just before Christmas. I believe this behavior by Placer Dome gives a whole new meaning to a famous saying, "WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH THE TOUGH GET GOING."

These decisions and actions by Placer Dome are but the latest in a 30-year history of unilateral and non-consultative decisions taken by Placer Dome that have put ecosystems and, ultimately, human health and safety at risk in Marinduque.

I have come here to offer concrete suggestions for ways that the Philippine Government, the Canadian Government and the people of Marinduque can work together to solve the many mining-related problems in my province.

Just before Placer Dome suddenly left the Philippines, the company made some agreements with the current owners of Marcopper that state that the current owners will complete the clean up of the river and the compensation of affected residents. The clean up option chosen is to return the spilled mine waste to the mined out pit that collapsed in 1996. As so often has been the case, we are being told these agreements are "confidential." This arrangement is completely unacceptable to the people of Marinduque, the provincial government and to the Philippine government for the following reasons:.

1) Once again Placer Dome has made decisions that will affect our environment, health and safety in Marinduque without the least consultation with the people of Marinduque or the Provincial government. This is no longer an acceptable way to do business. From now on the people of Marinduque, the provincial government, and the government of the Philippines need to be full participants in the decisions that affect us.

2) The agreements Placer Dome has made with Marcopper are being kept secret from the people of Marinduque, the provincial government and the Philippine Government. This too is utterly unacceptable. How can we judge whether the amount of money Placer Dome has allocated will suffice to properly clean up the Boac River and the Sea, as promised in then Placer Dome CEO John Willson's 1996 letter to our President?

3) Placer Dome says that the plan for the clean up of the River is to return the mine waste to the mined out pit that collapsed in 1996. At least three reputable sources indicate that this is not a good clean up option for the mine waste, and certainly not one that should be entered into without thorough scientific studies and risk assessments of this option:

    a) In 1996 a United Nations team investigating this site noted that the mined out pit is an "unconventional containment system for tailings(mine waste). " The United Nations also found that no Environmental Impact Assessment and no Risk Assessment had been done on the pit. This is still the case today and so we do not want to consider the pit an appropriate place to put the tailings until these studies have been conducted,

    b) Klohn Crippen has clearly warned us that the pit wall itself is about to collapse under the weight of the mine waste that is already in the pit, causing potential loss of life,

    c) In their own report on the mining related problems in Marinduque, published in 2000, the United States Geological Survey says that no clean up option for the mine waste should be implemented until a thorough scientific assessment has been made.

4) Placer Dome says it will make the unspecified amount of money for the clean up available to Marcopper Mining Corporation, an entity that Placer Dome has described as "near insolvent." The people of Marinduque and the provincial government do not trust this private company, which wants to start mining again as soon as possible, to be in charge of the clean up.

5) Placer Dome has said that the consulting firm URS (Philippines) will oversee the clean up. The people of Marinduque and the provincial government are not comfortable with a private consulting firm that does a lot of business with the mining industry overseeing this work. We want an independent, not-for-profit, scientific oversight over the clean up of the river. The Philippine government and the people of Marinduque have already established a relationship with the United States Geological Survey to evaluate various clean up options. I would like to take this opportunity to invite the Canadian government and Canadian scientists to be part of this team.

6) Finally, We need to be able to look to the future of our island and our people. The United States Geological Survey has suggested the possibility of establishing a center of excellence for mine rehabilitation on the island of Marinduque. It would be a place where governments and researchers can contribute to the rehabilitation of our devastated eco-systems while increasing their knowledge of mining related environmental impacts and remediation. Again, we would like to extend an invitation to the Canadian government and Canadian scientists to become part of this effort.

To conclude, for 30 years the people of Marinduque have had no say in the decisions that Placer Dome has made. These decisions have had a major impact on our environment, our food security and our health. This is no longer acceptable. The latest secret agreements that Placer Dome has made with Marcopper must be made public. We demand that Placer Dome comply with the order from Secretary Alvarez to implement the recommendations in the Klohn Crippen report to save lives. We want to choose our own independent scientists to advise us on environmentally and socially acceptable clean up options for the spilled waste and to advise us regarding the health impacts of the mine waste. And once an acceptable clean up option has been chosen by the people we expect Placer Dome to fulfill their longstanding promises to clean up the waste.

In the future, I hope that the lessons learned from this unfortunate tragedy will discourage investors who will reap profits from our land and leave us to clean up their mess. Unfortunately, this mess usually includes bodies of Filipino children.