A consumer advocacy group asked the government to investigate a British mining company in Nueva Vizcaya province for allegedly ignoring Philippine laws on the protection and preservation of threatened natural resources.
“We respectfully ask President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel the financial and technical assistance agreement of FCF Minerals Corp. which is located within the Magat River watershed forest reserve. Not only is the company mining in a protected area which is clearly prohibited under the Mining Act of 1995, but the Magat River also feeds into the Magat Dam which is the source of irrigation for agricultural land in the Cagayan Valley,” Action for Consumerism and Transparency in Nation Building said in a statement.
The group said protected areas including watersheds under the law are “strictly and absolutely beyond the commerce of man.”
The environment watchdog said the entire area covered by FCF’s mining permit was clearly “within the proclaimed Magat Watershed Area as provided for by the 1969 Proclamation 573.”
Ram Baccay, ACTION spokesman, said that under Section 19 of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, mining operations were prohibited in watersheds which are protected areas.
The group raised concerns over the possibility of mine tailings and other toxic materials spilling into the Magat River and other connecting waterways, thereby inflicting a wider swathe of destruction to agri-business and the ecosystem.
“We are also afraid that the catastrophic environmental disasters that happened in Marinduque and Benguet where thousands of hectares of agricultural land were damaged might also occur in Nueva Vizcaya and the rest of the Cagayan Valley because the Runruno tailings facility is built near the Sulong River, a tributary which joins the Magat River downstream onto the Cagayan River,” Baccay said.
“The risk of earthquakes, landslides or weather-related disasters could cause major spillage of hazardous materials into the Magat River and create serious damage to the supported irrigation networks of the Magat Dam,” he said.
The Marcopper mining tragedy, considered as one of the worst mining and environmental disasters in Philippine history, took place in March 1996 when toxic mine tailings and wastes spilled into the Boac River in Marinduque. In August 2012, a massive mining spill involving the release of 20.6 million tons of toxic tailings into water bodies, occurred at the Philex Padcal mine site in Benguet where the spillage was ten times more than the unprecedented 1996 Marcopper mine disaster.
Rep. Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya, in a privilege speech, accused FCF Minerals of human rights violation when the company bulldozed the homes and farm lots of indigenous people in Barangay Runruno, Quezon town. He said a number of residents were hurt in the incident.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu vowed to uphold a policy enunciated made by his predecessor, Regina Paz Lopez, declaring watersheds off-limits to mining operations.
“Definitely, there will be no mining in watersheds,” Cimatu said during a previous news conference, where he reiterated his commitment to promote responsible mining in keeping with President Duterte’s policy to protect the environment. The group dared Cimatu to make good that promise.
Completed in 1982, Magat Dam was reputedly one of the largest dams in the Philippines. It is a multi-purpose infrastructure, but primarily used to irrigate about 85,000 hectares of agricultural lands and for flood control and hydroelectric power generation.
The dam has a lifespan of 50 years, but increased siltation and sedimentation due to slash-and-burn farming, illegal logging and fish-caging resulted in the rapid deterioration of the dam’s watershed.