Philippines: Marinduque ‘Pushed to the Wall’ by Barrick Gold

October 18, 2013 | By admin | Filed in: Barrick GoldPhilippinesMarcopper MineCorporate Social ResponsibilityHuman RightsImpact on CommunitiesIndigenous Rights.

In the Philippines, the island province of Marinduque is known
as a cautionary tale about the ravages of irresponsible mining.
It took Canadian mining giant Placer Dome a couple of decades
to wreak environmental destruction on major coral reefs in
Calancan Bay and to severely contaminate the Mogpog and Boac
Rivers with toxic mine waste – none of which has ever been
cleaned up. The ongoing environmental impacts are only part of
the story.

Fishermen from numerous villages around Calancan Bay lost their
livelihoods as the bay filled up with more than 200 million
tons of mine tailings dumped there between 1975-1991. Two
children died when they were buried in mine waste as a shoddy
dam burst and the Mogpog River flooded with toxic mine silt in
1993. The banks of the Boac River still hold steep mounds of
tailings that were left to continuously pump acid and heavy
metals into the river after another catastrophic dam failure
filled that river with mine waste in 1996. These contaminated
rivers no longer support the livelihood and economic activities
of nearby villages, as they once did. Placer Dome, which had
managed the two Marcopper mines in Marinduque, eventually

fled the Philippines in 2001
, leaving the mess behind.

Canada’s Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company
that bought out Placer Dome, has spent the better half of a
decade fighting the province in court rather than owning up to
the company’s responsibility to put things right in Marinduque.
Once again, Marinduque is the bellwether, evidence that for all
its rhetoric about “responsible mining,” the mining industry is
still more concerned with its bottom line than in doing what’s

In spite of a long legal struggle with competent American
lawyers, on September 17, Marinduque provincial administrator
Eleuterio Raza told the
Philippine Daily Inquirer
 that Barrick was offering
the province around 20 million dollars, take it or leave
it.  According to the Inquirer “[t]he amount, however,
would further be reduced to $13.5 million after litigation
expenses had been paid. ‘These are crumbs,’ said Raza, ‘but we
are being pushed to the wall.’” It is perfectly clear that this
extremely low level of recovery from Barrick is woefully
inadequate to protect the health and safety of Marinduquenos,
which can only be secured through the comprehensive
rehabilitation of all contaminated ecosystems and the
stabilization or removal of shoddy dams and structures in the
mountains of the island, as well as the tons of toxic waste
that these dams are barely containing.

Numerous independent scientific studies of the ravages of
mining on Marinduque, including by a United Nations team and
United States Geological Survey, confirm the extraordinary and
ongoing toxic impacts of uncontained mine waste and
un-rehabilitated rivers and coastal areas. As the mine was
abandoned after the catastrophic dam failure in 1996, numerous
dams and structures have not been maintained and now pose a
very real threat of failure and further impacts on lower lying
communities and ecosystems. Placer Dome’s own consultants,
Canada’s Klohn Crippen, warned in a report leaked in 2001 of
“danger to life and property” related to inadequate mine
structures holding back waste. These structures have been
deteriorating ever since.  

Any recovery from Barrick has to be applied to immediate
stabilization of dangerously shoddy mine structures,
rehabilitation of contaminated rivers and coastal areas, and
permanent solutions for the tons of mine waste still at the
defunct mine sites in the mountains of Marinduque. But what
Barrick has reportedly laid on the table is insufficient for
this task. Clean up of mine waste from other contaminated sites
around the world indicates that rehabilitation on a scale that
is required in Marinduque could easily run into hundreds of
millions of dollars. Canada’s Teck Resources Ltd.
spent $55 million
just on studies to prepare for
rehabilitation of areas it contaminated by dumping some 9.97
million tons of slag containing heavy metals into the Columbia
River. Clean up of that contamination has been estimated to run

as high as $1 billion

It’s not that Barrick cannot afford to do the right thing. The
mining giant
paid its new co-chair $17 million
in 2012, including an
$11.9 million signing bonus. Barrick’s
fine for an environmental breach
at a mine that is still
under construction in Chile came to $16 million, more than
Marinduque would apparently get for 30 years of environmental

For the “crumbs” it is offering Marinduque, Barrick is
demanding highly valuable settlement provisions to secure the
firm permanent legal immunity in this case. One of these, the
Inquirer reported, is a clause stating that Placer Dome never
operated on the island. “That’s something difficult for us to
accept. It’s common knowledge that Placer Dome was a managing
partner of Marcopper,” Raza was quoted as saying. Recent
reports indicate that the provincial board has
rejected the current settlement agreement
, described as
“onerous.” On October 19, Elizabeth Manggol of a
Church-based group, Marinduque Council for Environmental
told the Inquirer
 that “the proposed settlement should
be rejected, ‘not only because the amount was too small, but
because of certain conditions absolving the company of
environmental damages.’ ‘Among those conditions is that the
settlement proceeds can never be used for the repair and
rehabilitation [of the damaged rivers and mining structures]
when it was the purpose [of the lawsuit] in the first place.’”

What President Aquino, his advisor on environmental protection
Secretary Nereus Acosta, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have to
recognize is that if funds recovered from Barrick cannot be
used to address the urgent risks to health and safety posed by
the legacy of irresponsible mining in Marinduque, or if the
recovery from Barrick is insufficient to cover the true costs
of this work, these costs will ultimately be borne by tax
payers, locally and nationally. Barrick’s unwillingness to
shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that the environment
and people of Marinduque are made secure means that the
province’s unfortunate role as the poster child for
irresponsible mining, past and present, will surely continue.

[A shorter version of this article was published in
the Philippine
Daily Inquirer

Catherine Coumans, PhD, of MiningWatch Canada, lived in
Marinduque in 1988-1990 and has since returned many times. She
says it was her experience with irresponsible mining on the
island that led her to leave an academic career in favour of
working with local communities to counter the damaging effects
of mining.

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