A River Once Ran Through it: The Boac River and Marcopper Mining

I. Facts of the issue

– In 1996, Boac River became the glory of Marinduque no more because of mine wastes that came from Marcopper Mining.

– Materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the worthless portion of an ore called tailings killed the life giving qualities of Boac.

– Given the negative effects of Marcopper Mining, the government reacted quickly.

– DENR Secretary Victor Ramos ordered the filing of criminal complaints against five Marcopper executives.

– He had also threatened to cancel both the companies ECC (Environmental Compliance Certificate) and its lease mining agreement, which would expel the mining operations of Marcopper in Marinduque after three decades of doing so.

– Expat Executives of Marcopper have been prohibited from leaving the country until the company cleans up the mess.

– Since the incident happened, DENR have no more processed new mining applications and has cracked down on mine tailings facilities around the country.

– Even if the government has done actions to resolve the damages that have been brought by the mining operations, it was still considered an attempt to ward off attention away from disorganized government monitoring.

– No loss of human life occurred but the rivers of tailings have jeopardized the direction of the nation’s development and have put it at environmental risks.

– The DENR had built in an array of environmental safeguards in Marcopper’s ECC to minimize the risks .

– In Marinduque, local officials and Marcopper field executives were not so into the idea of invigorating the mining industry, but were more anxious about the dangers that the mining operations could bring, like flash flooding.

– Since Marcopper is responsible for the consequences that their operations have brought, the government have given them the condition that the decision of allowing them to operate again would lie on how well they would do the relief and rehabilitation or how well they clean up their mess.

– Marcopper’s actions:

– End of May 1996, the company had improved mountain roads to
create access for isolated communities.
– Regularly delivered relief goods to the worst affected barangays
by helicopter
– Built levee banks in Boac to hold back expected high waters.

– The actions of Marcopper to clean up their mess were still not sufficient as tailings still endangered the life of Boac River . It has brought loss of the use of the river for the livelihood of the residents and had heightened health risks.

– There was also negligence on the part of DENR because they did not inspect the site in more than a year, which made them fail to discover the existence of a drainage tunnel that has a leak, but the government was still strong in defending that it is still the liability of the company because they still profited from the activity.
( They have done open pit mining to produce copper concentrate. Open-pit mining, or opencast mining, refers to a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow.)

– The government had given a certificate to Marcopper, allowing them to operate for ten years and using Tapian

– Damages reached to a cost of P300 Million, excluding other losses that people have mourned over.

II. The Ethical Issues.

1.) The extraction of minerals is one of the most environmentally destructive man-made activities.
2.) The mine operations have caused innumerable troubles; serious health and environmental problems have placed the community at risk.

3. ) Marcopper failed to disclose the tunnel’s existence in the company, and DENR also was negligent in inspecting the ins and outs of the operations.

4.) The government attempted to cover up the fact they did enforce environmental laws throughout the years.

5.) National and Environment Officials have pushed for tougher environmental standards for new applicants in the mining industry so as to boost it in the long run. The main reason for really becoming stringent is that they wanted to attract more serious players and drive away speculators , which obviously meant having the objective of reviving the mining industry and not protecting the environment and the society.

6.) Reams of historical documents show that in all those 30 years of its operations Placer Dome’s managers have consistently told the people their problems were not related to the mine, even if it was already evident that the tunnel leaks out toxic acid drainage .

7.) In fairness, Placer Dome did pledge to clean up the Boac River of the tailings, even as it denied responsibility for the spill. They pointed instead to a minor earthquake that took place a week before the tragedy as the executor. After 4 years, they still have a large cleanup project on their hands- about $60-million dollars and counting.

III. The Affected Parties (The Stakeholders)

The Residents of Marinduque :
The most affected party in the Mining Operations of Marcopper. They are considered victims, because they have been deprived of their right to a clean habitat and of their right to enjoy the blessings of natural resource for their living.

Marcopper Mining Corporation: Marcopper is the largest employer on the island of Marinduque and created most of the infrastructure on island. The company also makes up most of Marinduque’s revenue.
Placer Dome
Owns Marcopper’s mine site in Marinduque.

IV. The Consequences

– Has caused serious health and environmental problems and have placed the community at risk.

– Polluted waterways, killed fish and flooded agricultural fields

– The island of Marinduque is a very poor area and relies heavily on agriculture and fishing. Mining in the area has polluted waterways, killed fish, and flooded agricultural fields.

– People were being poisoned indirectly through the fish and water, but also, workers
were dying from direct contact with the mining operations.

V. The Obligations
Marcopper Mining Corporation – Mining companies Mar¬copper and Placer Dome Inc. are primarily being held liable by local residents for the disaster, because it profited from the activities. They continue to evade the protracted court battle and have not even settled their unpaid property taxes to the local government up to 2007. The condition of the river is so obviously unhealthy that Marcopper engineers do not even try to deny the problem. When asked whether it is true that mine waste is flowing into the river through the dam, company engineers Rick Esquierres and Jesus Cruz agreed that, regrettably, it is. They also confirmed that the waste increases the threat of flooding and is toxic to the river’s animal life and people. ‘It was the United Nations report of 1996 that first put the blame for the Boac disaster squarely on the shoulders of the Placer Dome management of the Marcopper mine. The report calls the use of a mined-out pit as a tailings disposal site “unconventional” and questions why necessary risk assessments were not carried out adding, “it is possible that had such risk assessment been carried out then the present environmental disaster would not have occurred”.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – is the government agency responsible for implementing the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which governs the Philippine mining industry. This law lays down the procedures and guidelines on how the mineral resources of the country can be exploited. The DENR is in charge of managing the state’s mineral resources and is the liaison between the government and mining companies. The DENR issued the Environmental Compliance Certificate to Marcopper in 1990, which allowed them to use the Tapian pit for mine waste storage
The provincial government of Marinduque – Clear line of communication between DENR and Marcopper Company should be handled by the Marinduque’s provincial government. While it is DENR’s responsibility to investigate what happened to Marcopper, it is Marinduque’s LGU’s obligation to inform Marcopper the status of DENR’s investigation to the community, to provide assistance to the communities affected by the mishap, and to communicate the update of the case to the media to ensure that all sides are taken fairly.
VI. Statement of the problem
How can Placer Dome be ethically and socially responsible to the people of Marinduque if they would close the mining operations of Marcopper given the fact that it has already left negative effects?
VI. Objectives

The following are the objectives of this paper ( Thinking the Placer Dome – Marcopper Operations Way )

1. To provide a means of sustaining the livelihood of the communities affected after the closing of the mine.

2. To immediately implement ethical solutions in solving the environmental, social, and economic issues that Placer Dome is facing.

3. To find the best rehabilitation plan for the environmental disaster caused by the mining activities of Marcopper.

VII. Potential Courses of Action

1.) “Clean up the Mess” – As in any company with the same situation, Placer Dome must not leave the country without doing something for the affected parties. We are not talking about moral and financial support, but at least an assistance that can sustain the quality of life they had before this crisis came up. Of course, their plan must also include to clean and to rehabilitate the Boac river, to ensure that there is enough supply of medicines and health care assistance to the families of people affected, and upto some extent, to organize a community program that will enable to revitalize the Marinduque’s tourism.

2.) “Set-up plan, then pay” – One of the worst actions that a crisis-inflicting company could do is to pay a community a considerable amount of money to compensate what had happened to the community, then move away as if nothing happened. However, if this is planned well, with Placer Dome making investment plans that aims to save Boac River to be carried out in a short-, medium- and long-term perspective, then it may also be worthwhile for that community to get the money from Placer Dome. In other words, not only they should pay the community but also help them in rebuilding and improving a deteriorating quality of life.

3.) “Just Close it” – Of course, Placer Dome could just end their operation here in the Philippines. Although this is tantamount to their admission of guilt, this could also be the price they have to pay, morally, to the people affected. In addition, Placer Dome should be able to make sure that, with their leaving Marinduque, they should already inform the community of what happened, where did they go wrong, and what would they do about it.
4.) “Government Intervention” – Placer Dome to let the government of the Philippines to manage the rehabilitation and restoration program, and for them to fund such operations and to oversee the well thought-out use of the fund as donor

VIII. Conclusion / Paying attention to our Gut

It could be very difficult for Placer Dome to save Boac River from its destruction. As said in the case’s introduction, in which a resident said that the river was “clean and clear, with lots of fish.”, it is so hard to bring it back. What happened to Boac River is vary similar to what happened to Pasig River. Industrialization always has its price. In this case, everyone seems to be at fault. Placer Dome and Marcopper Company should have checked and studied the possibility of Copper tailings that could leak to the river, gave enough time and budget to anticipate water pollution and provide prevention and contingency plans to save the lives of both the people and the river. It is quite annoyingly amusing to know that marcopper had been operating in Marinduque for thirty years and yet they did not think out of the box that something like this could, and will, happen. They went overboard in thinking that the environment is not a part of their development.

DENR, who were in charge of issuing their Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), also has a liability. An ECC, which should be done meticulously to make sure that a certain company will not do any harm to the environment as long as it is in operation, is now being questioned. The document that can provide pertinent information regarding the potential hazards that the company could do in a community is being questioned for its content and limitations. Even the government is being subjected to scrutiny as they sugar-coat the issue by doing actions that should’ve been done a long time ago when this was not happening yet. Again, their side is keen on improving the economy by luring investors. But it is a lot too late to do ordering shutdown of the Copper mining operations somewhere just because this issue had burst right in faces.

At the end of the day, the people around Boac River are the ones who will suffer in this cruelty.

IX. Recommendation

To resolve the issue, Placer Dome should have the initiative to “clean up the mess”. As stakeholders were already suffering from Marcopper’s irresponsibility, Placer dome should make actions to ensure that the community will be properly taken cared of. In fact, as mentioned in the case, the “Government expects Marcopper to foot the bill and do most of the relief and rehabilitation work”. However, this is only to cover up the graveness of what they had done. The government is seeking for short-term; why can’t the government ask Marcopper to allot budget that will improve the quality of life in Marinduque in a long term. More Investment plans and CSR projects, and improved environmental assessment should be done to help the community for a long-term.

Unlike lahar, the tailings are of no use; Marinduque people cannot do something with it. These are even hazardous to human health. In addition, Marinduque is a rainy province, so frequent rainfall causes flood that rose to people’s neck. Ideally, these problems could’ve been solved if contingency plans were already laid out. In reality, however, Marcopper only needed to wake up 30 years from their initial operation to realize that something like this can happen.

As per Implementation and Action Plan, Placer Dome should Provide livelihood programs for the people of Marinduque to teach them new skills that will be able to help self-sustain and survive once OTML stops its operations.

Create effective environment monitoring so that impacts of the closure can be accurately measured and assess & meaningful reports provided to the government regulations. BHP can propose a new environment regime. This regime puts into place a program of activities that provides a better understanding of the cause-effect process impacts and encourages the investigation of potential mitigate actions.

Help the government in putting up hospitals, schools, business centers that the people of Marinduque can use.

X. References: