eastwind journals 44 – did philex know its dam could break?

eastwind journals 44
this article is the personal view of the author
and does not reflect those of organizations he belongs to


A nightmare of 142 MMT of tailings in Agno River
It is impossible for the Philex operations managers and their veteran engineers not to know Tailings Dam No. 3 could break anytime. They knew It was built in 1992 and had a life span of 20 years, or up to 2012. So why is there still no Tailings Dam No. 4 when Dam No. 3 should be full by now? Building a new dam takes years. They should have built one years ago. Was it mismanagement or greed? Was the setup of a new dam intentionally deferred?
Is it coincidental that the year Dam No. 3 was built, 1992, was the year Dam No. 2 collapsed? Was there a news blackout by a powerful force which kept the collapse of Dam No. 2 from the public? This author warned in an article written six months ago that Dam No. 3 might collapse anytime.


Dam No. 3 has a capacity of 142 million metric tons (MMT). In 2007, total impounded tailings reached 127 MMT. That was five years ago. Simple math shows projected tailings by 2012 would be circa 169 MMT, way beyond capacity. How can you continue operations when you have nowhere to put the tailings into? The Dam No. 2 collapse unleashed 80 MMT in January 1992. (Source – “Dossier on Philex Mines” by Arturo Boquiren, May 2009).


Boquiren also reported that, instead of a new dam, Philex simply kept raising the embankment of Dam No. 3, which any amateur structural engineer will tell you is dangerous because you are simply holding more tailings for walls designed for lower capacity.


So Philex should not talk of force majeure (caused by Nature due to heavy rains) when the disaster was caused by Man, or Man(agement). Was management scrimping on funds in violation of safety standards? With billions in earnings, a new dam is peanuts, so why scrimp?


Failon Ngayon of ABS-CBN reported that 20 MMT has leaked into the rivers as of its broadcast on October 13, 2012. That is about 17% of total capacity. Right this minute, the hemorrhage is ongoing. There are no reported successful plugging of the leak. If the leak is not plugged, the entire contents of Dam No. 3 of 142 MMT may drain into the Agno River, which nourishes hundreds of thousands of farmlands in Pangasinan.


Why is Philex and the government not asking for international help to plug the leak?


DENR-MGB is slapping a P1 billion fee on Philex, but that is only for the license penalty. It does not include social or agricultural damage. Marcopper gave the government billions in rehab money for the Boac River in Marinduque. We do not know where the money went to, but Boac is still dead today. Expert environmentalists claim the Marcopper damage is irreversible. The Marcopper spill involved a measly 1.6 MMT of tailings. The entire 142 MMT tailings of Dam No. 3, if it drains totally, is nearly 100 times of the Marcopper spill. Is the larger Philex disaster as irreversible as the Marcopper?


If, for the sake of argument, we say very conservatively that Philex has to pay P20 billion in social and environmental costs, most of which should go to the farmers, this is still too small if the agricultural damage is irreversible. Millions in Pangasinan farmers may grow hungry, including their children’s children. Can the Philex disaster eventually cause a temporary famine in parts of Pangasinan? We do not know.


P20 billion in damages is peanuts compared to the vast Philex earnings in the last few decades. Yet they argue that they should not pay a single cent because of force majeure. The Boquiren study reports Philex had $2.7 billion in earnings or about Php120 billion based on 311 MMT milled in 48 years in Padcal. (Source: PMC 2007b, based on Figure 4 of the Boquiren Study). The graph below shows the extent of the Philex empire.

Corporate structure of Philex Mining Corporation
(Source: http://www.philexmining.com.ph, April 2009, Figure 6 of Boquiren Study)


They have been raking it in for so long. If they say the money is gone, its affiliate companies have the moral obligation, in the name of social justice, to pay for damages, including Smart, PLDT, Meralco, NLEX, ABC5, Davao Doctors, Makati Medical, La Panday, to name a few. New firms may soon be added to the empire – Heart-Lung-Kidney Institutes, Dole, and Del Monte. If it is capable of frenzied acquisitions, the empire has plenty of money to spare for social justice.

After Philex, will Noynoy dare give away Tampakan to Xstrata-SMI on a silver platter with its 2.7 billion MT tailings dam, about 200 times larger than Dam No. 3 of Philex, only to get a trickle in tax revenues that is incomparable by far to the potential damage? Will Noynoy go for ten dollars to lose a thousand?
The Tampakan dam will sit atop high altitude over 14 seismic fault lines at the heart of Mindanao’s bread basket of four provinces. Climate change is starting to bring typhoons to Mindanao, larger than the ‘heavy rains’ of the Philex disaster. Noynoy has no choice but to decide in favor of Filipinos, not of foreigners.


The Philex disaster should radically change our mining policies, as Philex has proven that large scale mining is not really giving us economic development but destroys it. In part 2, we talk of nationalizing the mining industry through small scale mining – Philippine resources for Filipinos.
Bernie Lopez
eastwind journals
Opinyon Magazine advance copy
to view, click – http://www.sisterraquel.com/2012/10/poster-120
Poster 1
of what use is a tranquil place
when your heart is troubled
seek lofty people not lofty place
as your sanctuary of peace


Poster 2
in your darkest days
the Lord is your silver lining
behind your cloud of darkness
is His blinding Light


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