MGB sends team to probe Philex's mine leak

By Atom Araullo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2012 05:44 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2012 01:44 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has deployed a joint investigation team to conduct a comprehensive assessment on the impact of leakage of the mines tailings pond of Philex Mining Corporation in Bgy Pacdal, Tuba, Benguet.

The team, composed of technical staff from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), will determine the impact of discharges coming from the tailings pond of Philex on living organisms in the area.

According to the MGB, the tailings pond of the mine leaked last August 1, amid heavy rains brought by Typhoon Gener. MGB director Leo Jasareno explained that hydrostatic pressure forced a gate in a drain tunnel to give way, causing the spill.

Philex claimed that the "sinkhole" has been completely sealed since the morning of August 3 to stop the escape of sediments. All operations of the mine were also suspended indefinitely pending the investigation.

The investigation team was given 15 days to conduct their investigation.

However, Jasareno admits that the fact that the leakage occurred already indicates a violation on the part of Philex.

"Di dapat nangyari yun. Definitely may basis to say may violation sa clean water act at the minimum. Ang sinusubukan nating malaman hanggang saan ang liability nila," said Jasareno.

Aside from the Clean Water Act, Philex will also be investigated for possible violations of their environmental compliance certificate and relevant mining laws.

Jasareno said they are primarily concerned with the impact of siltation on the rivers and tributaries affected by the spill. He also confirmed the presence of the chemical Xanthate in the tailings pond, a kind of collector agent in the extraction of copper. However, he stressed that it is "non-toxic" at the levels allegedly present in the pond.

"Dahil sa nangyaring ito, hindi maiiwasang madagdagan ang pangamba ng publiko. Pero opportunity rin ito para ipakita ng mga mining companies na handa sila sa ganitong sitwasyon at kaya nilang lutasin ang problema," he said.

For its part, Philex said they are fully cooperating with the investigation of the government, and that their primary concern now is their "response procedures at the mine site rather than revenues".

"Like any industry, nagkakaroon din ng aksidente. Ang importante may ready protocols at handa tayong bigyan ng solusyon yung problema. Hindi namin ito tataguan," says Michael Toledo, Philex Mining Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs.

Meanwhile, an environmental group has called on the government to suspend all mining operations pending an inspection of existing facilities.

"Di naman matatapos ang pagulan sa bagyong Gener, in fact marami pa tayong inaasahang bagyo. We want to be sure that the facilities in all these mining operations are safe para hindi maulit ang ganitong problema," said Dr. Giovanni Tapang, vice president of Kalikasan Partylist.

Tapang said they will conduct an independent investigation into the leak to determine its impact on the local community.