Environmental Justice Case Study

Marcropper in the Phillippines

Table of Contents
Key Actors
Key Contacts
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For over 30 years, the Marcopper Mining Corporation has been operating on Marinduque Island in the Philippines. The mine operations there have caused innumerable troubles; serious health and environmental problems have placed the community at risk. 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. One resident observed, "over the years…our lifeline--this brook used for everything from drinking to washing down buffalo--had been shrinking." Not only was the supply of water shrinking, but it was contaminated. People were being poisoned indirectly through the fish and water, but also, workers were dying from direct contact with the mining operations. One man, who worked 10 years as a driver for Marcopper, died at the young age of 39 due to lung cancer. Doctors reported it was caused by the "red dust" he encountered at work everyday. His terminal illness was compensated by a month's wages (Hamilton-Paterson 1997).

Despite these negatives, Marcopper employs about 1,000 people, mostly from the island. The corporation also provides $30 million a year for local goods and services, as well as the electricity for the province (Tauli-Corpuz). Still, this island remains one of the poorest parts of the country. The government of the Philippines supports multinational corporations and actively seeks to bring their investments, like mining, into the country. Things like The Mining Act of 1985, which allows a mining company to own 100% equity, and the lax environmental regulations, are in existence to attract companies. Marinduque has tried to get their voices heard, but their claims against Marcopper are largely ignored. The struggle between development and the environment is apparent here, and is a problem being faced more and more frequently in developing nations.

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Mining is the process of removing ore from beneath the earth's surface. There are two types of mining that are traditionally used, appropriate to the nature of the deposit. Open pit mining is used when a shallow layer of material covers the ore. Heavy machinery is used to lift off earth and uncover the minerals. When the ore is far enough down where open pit mining is not practical, the more traditional underground method is used. Shafts are driven into the ground to remove the material and bring it to the surface. Once removed, the ore-bearing rock is ground up into powder and mixed with water and chemicals into slurry. Compressed air is pumped through the mixture causing the copper to hold to the bubbles. These bubbles are then skimmed off the surface and the minerals can be used. The rest of the mixture, or tailings, is waste (Hamilton-Paterson 1997).

In 1969, the Marcopper Mining Corporation began mining operations on Marinduque Island. Placer Dome, a Canadian company, co-owned (40%) and managed the corporation. The Mt. Tapian site was the first mining location on the island. Here, open pit mining was used to produce copper concentrate. Until 1972, Marcopper disposed of its waste on land. This changed in 1975 when a blanket permit was given to Marcopper, which allowed them to dump mine tailings into the Calancan Bay at the rate of 2.5 tons per second. The amount of tailings produced from mines in Marinduque is high because the ore is low grade, containing only 0.44 percent copper. This means a large amount of rock has to be removed and ends up as waste (Hamilton-Paterson 1997).

From 1975 to mid-1991, Dome dumped some 200 million tons of mine tailings via surface disposal into Calancan Bay. The shallow bottom is covered by approximately 80 sq km of tailings including a five km long causeway of exposed tailings. Throughout this period, Placer Dome denied the dumping hurt the fishermen, who relied on the bay as a livelihood (KASAMA 1998). Not only was waste entering Calancan Bay, but in order to drain rainwater from the mining pit, a tunnel was built from the mine to the Boac River.

The Mt. Tapian reserve was depleted in 1990 and Marcopper opened the San Antonio copper ore body, three kilometers north of the Mt. Tapian area (The Marinduque Island Mine Disaster). A tunnel, which led from the Tapian pit to the Boac River, was sealed, and the pit became a storage space for mine tailings from San Antonio. This occurred due to protests from the community concerning dumping into Calancan Bay. The Department on Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave Marcopper an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) on April 16, 1990, allowing them to operate for 10 years, using the Tapian pit as a tailings dam (Tauli-Corpuz).

Fears Tapian would not hold all of San Antonio's waste led to Marcopper investigating the possibility of a dam in Mogpog River. Plans for the Maguila-guila dam began in 1990. The people of Mogpog sent out numerous petitions and resolution to stop the dam because of the effects it would have-mine waste pollution along with increased flooding. Despite the protest, Marcopper went ahead and began construction in 1991. After the completion of the dam in 1992, villagers started noticing waste flowing into the river as well as the appearance of large quantities of dead fish. Siltation from the waste dump started building up in the Mogpog River increasing the severity of flooding in the rainy season. The seasonal rains in 1993 caused intense flooding and the dam collapsed altogether. Toxic silt and water flowed down the river and into the town, destroying homes and rice fields, and killing animals. Two people lots their lives because of this accident (Marinduque’s Other Toxic River).

Three years later, on March 24, 1996, 2-3 million tons of mine waste leaked into the 26- kilometer long Boac River. The plug that sealed the Tapian pit tunnel to the Boac had fractured, releasing mine waste at a rate of 5-10 cubic meters per second. The pit contained around 23 million metric tons of mine waste (Tauli-Corpuz).

The immediate effects were disastrous. Flash floods isolated villages and one was buried under six feet of floodwater. The channels, as well as the valley floor, were buried under mine tailings. Agricultural fields were inundated, and the drinking water residents relied on was contaminated. Fish, shrimp and other food sources, which are the main livelihood for those who do not work for Marcopper, were immediately killed. The government declared the Boac River dead. Twenty villages out of the 60 had to evacuate their area following the accident. A report released on April 17, 1996 by the Department of Health found nine residents in the area to have zinc levels in their blood more than 200% above safe limits. Water samples found levels of contamination 1,300% above the human tolerable level of .5 microgram per 1/1000 liters of water. Despite these findings, Marcopper held on to the claim that the tailings were non-toxic. Residents also complained of skin irritations and respiratory problems, which could have been caused by the poisonous vapors emitted from tailings (Tauli-Corpuz).

After the disaster, Marcopper and Placer Dome closed down all mines. The government attempted to cover up the fact they did enforce environmental laws throughout the years. The DENR Undersecretary for the Environment and Research, who signed the ECC, said that he did not know of the Tapian drainage tunnel. The corporation and the experts hired on the environmental impact study had made no mention of it to him. The residents in Marinduque claimed they knew about the tunnel for almost 20 years. Evidence came to light that Marcopper knew of the leak in the drainage tunnel well in advance of the accident, as there had been a long history of problems (Tauli-Corpuz). In August of 1995, the corporation, with the help of a geotechnical consultant, plugged leaks. Another hole was plugged after a minor leak in October of 1995. The Bureau of Mines, who monitored Marcopper’s compliance with the ECC, made no report of this. Placer Dome claims it met every environmental standard set the government of Ferdinand Marcos, who had been in power 10 years previous to the accident.

The 1996 accident became known as the "Marcopper Mining Disaster". It brought national and international attention to Marinduque. Experts and scientists poured into the island province to study the disaster, and eventually learned of the problems that had been occurring for years. Because of the support coming in from outside the community, the people had more power to mobilize. They then came to face a new struggle- how do they recover from the years of damage, and should they stop Marcopper from mining in Marinduque in the future?

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Key Actors

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. The mines produce 20% of the country's copper supply. A guided tour around the mine site can be taken. The site has facilities like swimming pools, bowling lanes, basketball, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course (Travel, description, information & facts of the Philippines). After the spill, Marcopper took no responsibility and did not participate in clean-up efforts. The corporation is currently entering bankruptcy.

Placer Dome

Placer Dome was formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1987 by the merger of Placer Development Limited of Vancouver, and Dome Mines Limited and Campbell Red Lake Mines Limited of Toronto. Today they are the 5th largest mining company in the world and have 15 mines in 6 countries, employing 12,000 people. Their main interests lie in gold and hold reserves of approximately 60 million. A quote from their website states, "we aim to provide…improved standards for the people living in the regions of the world where our mining operations take place" (Placer Dome Homepage). Placer Dome owned 40% of Marcopper's two mine sites in Marinduque and filled the top management positions of President and Resident Manager for the entire 30 years (Placer Dome in the Philippines).

A year after the accident in 1997, they sold all shares. 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. Two of its Marcopper executives still face criminal charges (Coumans 1999).

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) & Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)

The bureau, which is under 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 (Chan Robles).

Calancan Bay Villagers Support Coalition (CBVSC)

Founded in November of 1996 by Catherine Coumans, the group works to address the concerns and problems of the Calancan Bay community. The CBVSC is engaged in a wide variety of activities to support the goals of Calancan Bay villagers and their local supporters, local government units, NGOs and the Catholic Church on the island. They have mounted letter writing campaigns and signature gathering campaigns and helped other NGOs to mount similar actions (Placer Dome in the Philippines).

Probe International

"Probe International exposes the environmental, social, and economic effects of Canada's aid and trade abroad, revealing the devastating effects of our international projects." They work with mining communities to make sure their interests are voiced to the governments and corporations. Started in 1980, it has become a leader among the world’s environmental groups, working closely with environmentalists from Western and Third World countries. They have done a significant amount of investigative work in the Marcopper case (Probe International Homepage).

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The Philippines has a total population of 76.8 million people of which 91.5% are Christian Malay. The dominant religion is Roman Catholic (83%). Poverty is a significant problem in the Philippines, with 37% of the population living under the poverty line. Thirty percent of children under 5 years face malnutrition and the illiteracy rate for those over 15 years is 5% (The World Factbook).

Marinduque is an island province between the Bondoc Peninsula and Mindoro Island, and is classified under Region IV (Southern Tagalog Provinces) in Luzon. (Refer to Map #1). The population is 208,000. Boac is the capital and there are 5 other towns on the island- Buenavista, Gasan, Mogpog, Santa Cruz (the largest), and Torrijos. The island covers around 960 square kilometers. The language primarily spoken is Tagalog. Marinduque is agricultural, with rice and coconut as the major crops. It also has vast fishing grounds. Mining is the principal industry with the Marcopper mine in Santa Cruz being one of the largest mines in the country. Marinduque has one of the highest incidences of poverty in the country- 71.9%. Up until 1996, Marcopper produced about $1.7 billion in foreign exchange earnings for the Philippine economy (Tauli-Corpuz).

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Since the 1996 spill, Marinduque has received much support nationally and internationally. The attention given to them and the negative press Marcopper received gave the people power. Their voices were finally being heard and they had support to bring their forth their case against the government and Marcopper. On April 11, 1996, immediately following the spill, a criminal complaint was filed against five officials of the Marcopper Mining Company. The charges included damage to property, falsification of public documents, and violations of the Water Code, Pollution Law of 1976, and Philippine Mining Law of 1995 (Tauli-Corpuz). Suits were also filed against officials in the DENR. Unfortunately, these cases have been sitting in limbo and nothing has come out of them.

Marcopper Mining Corporation took no action immediately after the spill, due to lack of finances. Instead, Placer Dome accepted responsibility for the costs of clean up. A new plug was installed in the drainage tunnel, which was completed in November of 1996. To prevent the tailings in the Boac River from spreading, levees were built along the Boac riverbank. A channel was dredged at the mouth of the river to capture tailings from being released into the ocean. Placer Dome reported this trapped 80% of the tailings. Another source estimates that only a quarter of the tailings remain in this underwater catchment area. These tailings remain there and a large debate surrounds the issue of properly disposing of this waste. Placer Dome has applied to the DENR for a permit to rid of the waste through something known as Submarine Tailings Disposal (STD). This method pumps tailings into the sea through a submerged pipe. It cuts down on costs by letting the ocean take care of the problem. This procedure had been deemed unacceptable under the environmental regulations of Canada, Placer Dome’s home country. The people of Marinduque have voiced their disapproval of this means and the DENR has rejected Placer Dome’s request for a permit twice (Marinduquenos Intensify).

Placer Dome has spent an estimated $71-million on the Boac river clean up, including funds to build new homes, construct roads, and airlift food and supplies. More than $1-million has been paid in lost wages to local fisherman and washer women because of the widening of the river following the disaster. An independent Environmental Guarantee Fund (EGF) was created to compensate fishermen and villagers whose livelihood has been affected by the disaster. Although this fund exists, many villagers have received no compensation and their needs and demands have not been met. In 1998, Mogpog's town council put forth a resolution to the provincial board demanding the complete removal of the dam, the clean up of the waste dump at the top of the river and the complete rehabilitation of the river and watershed. This resolution was never acted on.

Beside the Boac clean up, Placer says it has separated itself from many of the other environmental problems on the island including Calancan Bay. Peter Neilans, general manager of Placer Dome Asia Pacific and the man overseeing Marinduque operations has stated, "What should Placer do about it? Placer isn't a shareholder anymore. The commitment we made was that we would mitigate the effects of the 1996 spill. Any other perceived problems on the island are Marcopper issues. And we have no interest in Marcopper anymore" (Marinduque’s Other Toxic River).

In the spring of 2000, Marcopper, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the provincial government of Marinduque, signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to finalize a clean-up, rehabilitation and restoration plan. The DENR and Marinduque government "agreed to seek a final independent technical review of all the options available for the clean-up, rehabilitation and restoration of directly affected areas by qualified technical experts and consultants." It is yet to be seen if this MOA can guarantee the community action on their behalf. This is positive hope that the Boac spill can be cleaned up. The villages still wonder, though, who will help them solve the numerous other problems Marcopper has caused (DENR Press Release).

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There is no solution that can erase the damage that has occurred in Marinduque. The people simply want their environment cleaned up, compensation for their suffering, and assurance that this will not happen again. They request that Placer Dome pay for Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, dating back to 1975, and compensate villagers according to the results. They feel Placer Dome should pay money to the Calancan Bay Rehabilitation Program to assure their mess is cleaned up in the bay. They firmly believe Placer Dome should not be granted permits to start new mines in the Philippines until the environments of Boac, Mogpog and Calancan Bay have been completely rehabilitated and the residents compensated.

Specifically, the people are looking for the following:

  1. Maintain the closure order against Marcopper so they cannot operate again.
  2. Require Marcopper/Placer Dome to compensate them for the time since 1996.
  3. For Marcopper/Placer Dome to set up a Health Trust Fund.
  4. Immediately proceed with Marcopper/Placer Dome’s best option to rehabilitate Boac River.
  5. Ensure the Tapian Pit will not leak again.
  6. Collect unpaid taxes from Marcopper/Placer Dome.
  7. Conclude the criminal cases against Marcopper/Placer Dome.
  8. Investigate means of intervention for the affected community people.

There is no way the problems Marcopper has caused can be completely solved but the community is working to secure what they can to make up for the pain and suffering they have endured (An Open Letter).

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Key Contacts

Catherine Coumans, Ph.D.

Calancan Bay Villagers Support Coalition

Tel.: 519 455 5569

E-mail: 103611.663@compuserve.com

Canada Asia Working Group (CAWG)

947 Queen St. East, Suite 213, Toronto, ON M4M 1J9

Tel. (416) 465-8826, Fax: (416) 463-5569

Email: cawg@web.net

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An Open Letter on the Second Year Anniversary of the Marcopper/Placer Dome Tailings Leak.<http://www.probeinternational.org/probeint/Mining/placerdome/openletter998.htm>. November 22, 2000.

Coumans, Catherine. (March 24-26, 1999). Canadian TNC Dumps Waste Responsibility in Marinduque. <http://www.pcij.org/stories/1999/marcopper.html>. October 21, 2000.

DENR Press Release. (24 March 2000). <http://www.denr.gov.ph/032400.htm >. December 3, 2000.

Hamilton-Paterson, James. (January 1997). A Watery Grave. Outside Magazine. <http://www.outsidemag.com/magazine/0197/9701field.html>. September 20, 2000.

Marinduque’s Other Toxic River. (1999). <http://www.pcij.org/stories/1999/marcopper2.html>. October 21, 2000.

No author. (April–May–June 1998). Marcopper Disaster: Two Years Later. KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 2. <http://www.cpcabrisbane.org/Kasama/1998/V12n2/Marcopper.htm>. November 11, 2000.

No author. (Autumn 1999). Marinduquenos Intensify Struggle Against Placer Dome. Philippines International Review, Vol.2, No.1. <http://www.philsol.nl/pir/v2/PlacerDome-99b.htm>. October 21, 2000.

Placer Dome Homepage. <http://www.placerdome.com/> . September 20,2000.

Placer Dome in the Philippines: The Marinduque Island Disasters. <http://www.probeinternational.org/probeint/Mining/placerdome/pdhome.htm>. September 20, 2000.

Probe International Homepage. <http://www.probeinternational.org>. October 21, 2000.

Tauli-Corpuz, Victoria. (No date). The Marcopper toxic mine disaster -Philippines' biggest industrial accident, <http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/toxic-ch.htm>. September 19, 2000.

The Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. <http://www.chanrobles.com/RA7940.htm>. November 11, 2000.

The Marinduque Island Mine Disaster, Philippines. <http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/programs/rcb/unep4.html>. September 9, 2000.

The World Bank Group. (2000) <http://www.worldbank.org>. November 22, 2000.

The World Factbook 2000. (2000). <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> November 22, 2000.

Travel, description, information & facts of the Philippines. <http://www.philippine.org/01prov/marinduque.html>. November 13, 2000.

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