‘Halos umiiyak’: Marinduque residents hail decision vs Marcopper for 1993 mine disaster

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2022 01:45 PM | Updated as of May 25 2022 03:43 PM

A boy plays on a dry riverbed in Mogpog, Marinduque, 20 years after the Marcopper mining disaster on March 22, 2016. Several river systems in the province were left heavily silted and severely poisoned when the Marcopper mine tailings dam leaked mercury-contaminated discharge, impacting the province’s water and food supply. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File 
A boy plays on a dry riverbed in Mogpog, Marinduque, 20 years after the Marcopper mining disaster on March 22, 2016. Several river systems in the province were left heavily silted and severely poisoned when the Marcopper mine tailings dam leaked mercury-contaminated discharge, impacting the province’s water and food supply. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA — Marinduque residents on Wednesday welcomed a local court decision that ordered Marcopper Mining Corp. to pay them damages for a deadly mining spill nearly 3 decades ago. 

In 1993, the company’s Maguila-guila siltation dam burst, flooding the town of Mogpog, where 2 children drowned in the mine waste. 

In a decision dated May 16 and only made available to media on Tuesday, Judge Emmanuel Recalde of the Marinduque Regional Trial Court Branch 38 ordered Marcopper to pay each of the plaintiffs P200,000 in temperate damages and P100,000 in moral damages. 

Recalde also ordered Marcopper to pay the plaintiffs collectively P1 million in exemplary damages, media reports said. 

“Actually halos umiiyak po 'yung amin pong mga petitioners sa napakagandang decision ng court na pinaboran po yung prayers nila na mabayaran ng compensation,” said Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC) executive director Elizabeth Manggol. 

(Our petitioners almost wept with this decision of the court that favored their prayers to receive compensation.) 

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The case was filed in 2001. Manggol noted there were originally 61 plaintiffs, but only 30 are left. 

Manggol also acknowledged that there is still a long road ahead for the plaintiffs—aside from the possibility that the Regional Trial Court's decision may be appealed, 2 other cases are pending against Marcopper. 

“Meron po 'yung pagkatambak ng tailings sa Calancan Bay nung 1975-1991, at iba pa po yung nangyari na disaster nung March 24, 1996 na nag-spill po ang tailings ng Marcopper sa Boac River,” she told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo. 

(Tailings were dumped on Calancan Bay from 1975 to 1991, and this is separate from the disaster on March 24, 1996, when the tailings of Marcopper spilled into the Boac River.) 

She also noted that the RTC’s decision did not grant the prayer for the complete rehabilitation of the Mogpog River, which is now considered biologically dead after it was heavily silted with mine tailings.

“Kaya po, sana po yung iba pong kaso ay mag-proceed para po magka-meron talaga ng total and genuine rehabilitation. Alam po namin na meron pang mahabang proseso na kasunod,” she said. 

(This is why we hope that the other cases will proceed, so that there will be total and genuine rehabilitation. We know that there is still a long process ahead.)

Marcopper had denied responsibility when the Maguila-guila dam burst in 1993. Mining officials blamed an unusual rainfall brought by a typhoon. 

But a briefing paper from the office of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco earlier noted that when the dam was rebuilt, “an overflow was added for the first time, in an implicit acknowledgment of faulty engineering.”

Velasco on Wednesday said that while the court decision was "very welcome and long overdue," the quest for justice for victims was "far from over." 

"In fact, in 2020, authorities discovered about 100 barrels containing what they described as 'toxic substances' in Marcopper’s old storage facility," the House Speaker said in a statement.

He added that the death of Boac River still hounded thousands of farmers and fisherfolk who are dependent on it. Some residents in the area also continued to experience health problems, said the lawmaker. 

He lamented that his constituents continue to suffer the effects of the mining tragedy--as can be seen in their health problems--to this day.

"We strongly believe that the government must continue to exact accountability from Marcopper for the consequences of its irresponsible mining practices that have caused irreparable damage to the environment and to the people of Marinduque," Velasco said. 

For his part, Mogpog Mayor August Leo Livelo said he supports MACEC’s quest for justice.

But in the meantime, he said he wishes for a dredging of the Mogpog River to prevent it from overflowing in case of strong rains.

“Ang sa amin po sana, sa pagkakaalam ko, may proposal po ata diyan, na kahit paano i-dredge man lang muna yung Mogpog River natin, see to it na hindi maapektuan masyado ng baha yung nasa low-lying areas,” he said.

(From what I know, there is a proposal to dredge the Mogpog River in the meantime, see to it that those in low-lying areas would not be too badly affected by floods.) 

— With a report from Nikko Dizon, VERA Files