18 years after Marcopper minespill, Marinduqueños still thirsting for justice

In 2005, the local government of Marinduque filed a case against Placer Dome in the United States. Last year, its new owner Barrick Gold offered a US$ 20-million settlement with a condition that the petitioners, including Philippine government agencies, waive their accountabilities and responsibilities with regard to the disaster.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

Eighteen years ago, on March 24, the Marcopper tailings dam collapsed, unleashing tons of toxic minespill that caused the biological death of the Boac River. This, in turn, adversely affected the livelihood of farmers, fisher folks, clothes washers and other members of the community who are dependent on the river.

Part of the 7.5 km causeway of tailings that flowed into Calancan Bay. (2009 Photo of Alex Felipe, published in blogpost of Marinduque local government)
Part of the 7.5 km causeway of tailings that flowed into Calancan Bay. (2009 Photo of Alex Felipe, published in Marinduque local government’s blogpost)

Despite the 18 years that passed, justice and rehabilitation still elude the victims of the Marcopper toxic mine tragedy to this day. So, in their continuing effort to demand for justice, around 1,500 Marinduqueños, with some members of the local government and the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MaCEC), marched together toward the Boac River to offer flowers yesterday, March 24. They held a short program condemning the irresponsibility of involved mining companies—Marcopper Mining Corp, Placer Dome and Barrick Gold (Placer Dome is now owned by Barrick Gold).

“No rehabilitation was done so the mine tailings remain in the river and combine with the water and sand,” said MaCEC Executive Secretary Elizabeth “Beth” Manggol.

If Yolanda had unleashed its wrath more on Marinduque than on Leyte, the impact would have been even deadlier, said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE in a forum marking the 19th anniversary of Philippine Mining Act last month. “The island province of Marinduque was mercifully avoided by the super typhoon. The abandoned tailings facilities of the Marcopper-Barrick Gold mining corporation would have likely overtopped if it was significantly affected by the disaster,” Bautista said.

Many tragedies from mining

In Marinduque, MaCEC cited the many tragedies caused by Marcopper since it began operating. These include:

(1) the use of Calancan Bay as tailings pond since 1975-1991;

(2), the December 1993 collapse of the Maguil-guila siltation dam that killed two children in Mogpog and flooded the areas; and

(3) the March 1996 collapse of Marcopper tailings dam.

Marcopper’s mine is currently inactive but is yet to be fully decommissioned and rehabilitated.

Languishing case

In 2005, the local government of Marinduque filed a case against Placer Dome in the United States. Last year, its new owner Barrick Gold offered a US$ 20-million settlement with a condition that the petitioners, including Philippine government agencies, waive their accountabilities and responsibilities with regard to the disaster.

According to Manggol, “The fourth tragedy is the Nevada case proposed settlement.” She questioned the practicality for the local government to accept Barrick Gold’s offer and for it to bear the burden of rehabilitating the area and arresting all damages that may be caused by the abandoned mines.

“If this happens, the responsibilities of Marcopper, Placer Dome and Barrick Gold will be passed on to the government—this will result in a conflict between affected communities and the government,” Manggol said.

The petitioners and the people are united in rejecting the settlement offer by Barrick Gold. They are also united against waiving their cases.

Manggol said the Marinduqueños are convinced the case they filed against Placer Dome Inc. (now Barrick Gold) in the US on October 4, 2005 is probably the last major chance to seek justice. “For 30 years, they have operated in the island with seeming impunity, having damaged the Calancan Bay with mine tailings.”