eastwind journals #48 – PHILEX countdown to disaster phase 2

eastwind journals #48
this article reflects the views of the author
and not of the organizations he is belongs to
A Dialogue with Government and Non-Government
By Bernie Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
Presentor for the NGO community
Advanced e-copy, eastwind journals column
Opinyon Magazine, November 19, 2012


One would wonder why Philex came full force to the dialogue with the government and non-government sectors. They were about 15 in all, close to a quarter of the entire assembly, with its President, Vice President, a team of lawyers and engineers gracing the affair. Curiously, the lawyers argued on technical points more than the engineers. Curiously, the only media covering the affair were ABC5 and Radio5. Manny Pangilinan controls both ABC5, Radio5, and Philex.


The affair was a caucus last November 13, 2012 of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on the Environment, one of four TWGs of the MinIng Industry Coordinating Council (MICC). It was on the behest of environment advocate Gina Lopez. Presidential environment adviser Neric Acosta, who presided over the meeting, said the results of the dialogue would be “in aid of legislation” on mining policy.


As the first presentor, I cited an independent study by Dr. Arturo Boquiren (Dossier on Philex Mining, May 2009) commissioned by Linis Gobyerno and Alyansa Tigil Mina. Although it antedated the disaster, the study had premonitions of the future fiasco. The designed life span of dam no. 3, which dumped massive amounts of tailings, is 20 years, from 1992 to 2011. The dam spill is the largest in Philippine history. The dam should have been decommissioned in 2011, but Philex kept using it beyond originally designed capacity. They said the MGB approved the ECC for the continued use. MGB, was conveniently absent. Six months after its designed life, in August 2012, the disaster occurred.


Philex said the dam did not collapse, it simply leaked. That was the first desperate attempt to cover up the immense volume of tailings released, by calling it a ‘leak’. Sure, the dam did not collapse, but the huge 20-odd-meter-diameter pipe at the bottom collapsed from sheer weight. Philex’s heavy equipment were used to desperately try to plug the hole, but went entirely through the pipe into the river. One cannot call that a ‘leak’. The estimated volume was a staggering 20 mmt, ten times that of Marcopper of 2.3 mmt, according to Gina Lopez.


Boquiren reported that the volume of tailings in 2007 was 9.07 mmt, and dramatically increased in 2009 to 127.23 mmt. Since the dam’s capacity was 142 mmt, there was only a measly 14.77 mmt capacity left. Philex should have started planning dam no. 4 as dam no. 3 was almost full. They did not. Why? Where they scrimping on funds? Was it a case of mismanagement? Were their structural engineers overconfident nothing would happen? Did they think they could get away with dumping beyond capacity just because MGB approved it? See diagram below. –

We can approximate the volume of tailings at the time of the collapse by computing for the average volume per year, namely, the difference between the 2009 and 2007 volumes, divide by three years, equals 39.39 mmt per year. We multiply this average by three years (2009 to 2012) to get the volume at the time of collapse, and add it to the 2007 volume, namely 245.39 mmt. The excess is a shocking 102.37 mmt, almost half of the designed capacity of 142 mmt.


Philex kept raising the walls to increase capacity, approved by MGB of course, not realizing that the weight on the underground pipe was exceeding its strength. Boquiren reports, “According to the company, the dam embankment of tailing pond 3 is CONTINUOUSLY being built-up“ to maintain a 5-meter freeboard. I wonder if MGB directors at that time knew why their structural engineers approved this. Did engineers of Philex and MGB concur and were in collution? Where the management of both Philex and MGB aware of this? Philex gave its second desperate response, claiming it was force majeure. There were heavy rains but no storm. It is ridiculous to blame nature for the blunders of men. An environmentalist says, “I can’t believe Philex is crying the spill is an Act of God. Please lang – the poster boy for responsible mining is not responsible after all.”


My presentation of the results of the fact finding of nine NGOs led by the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) on Oct. 26 to 28 was shot down by Philex. They said if this was preliminary, and presented by a third party, it is better we wait for the final report. Acosta agreed. The group decided to have a second dialogue for the CPA-led fact finding final report when it is done. CPA has agreed. Their fact finding team included scientists who took water and soil samplings.


The CBCP-NASSA presentation was comprehensive but time was running out. It cited toxic reagents and heavy metals in the tailings dumped into the rivers. Philex’s third desperate response was that the toxins were left in the pond precisely to be bio-degraded and would be safe for release later. CBCP argued that the deadly reagent SIDX was not biodegradable, and so were the heavy metals such as arsenic, cyanide, mercury, etc.


The fourth desperate response of Philex was their claim that the spilt tailings were completely non-toxic, which could not be reconciled with the many reports of skin diseases, LBM, vomiting, even a dead carabao immediately after the collapse. This will be ascertained by the soil and water sampling and field interviews of the CPA-led fact finding team, similar to the data CBCP-NASSA failed to present for lack of time.


Philex is considering to extend dam no. 3 to year 2020, raising its wall further. This may cause another collapse, because the projected volume from 2012 to 2020 or 9 years times 39.39 mmt per year is a whopping 360 mmt minus 20mmt spilled equals 340 mmt. MGB must not approve another opportunity for disaster. Philex perhaps feels that, now that the dam is empty, it can be filled up again. So we await the next dialogue, where the CPA-led fact finding will present its findings.


Residents in the disaster area prefer if Philex stops mining altogether. Why give them another chance to make a second mistake when the first has not been given full retribution, the largest spill in our history, a gargantuan job that may take a decade, if not forever? I agree. Close Philex in Padcal permanently.
This article is being sent to government – President Aquino, TWG members – presidential  advisers Neric Acosta and Bebet Gozun, DENR, DILG, PMS, DTI, DOT, DOST, DAR, DA, DOE, CCC,  NEDA, LPP, PCSD, PLLO; non-members DBM, NICA, NCIP, CHR, MGB;  private sector – MVP-Philex; ngo-Church-academe  Misereor, CBCP-NASSA, AMRSP, CCCP, CPA-led consortium, Ateneo de Davao and de Manila, local and international green ngos; selected media outlets;  global public  – 8,000 mine-watchers here and abroad. amdg
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