Marcopper mine spill still haunts Marinduque – INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos.
On March 24, 1996, Marcopper Mining Corp. accidentally spilled deadly mine tailings into the Boac River, flooding it at the rate of 5 to 10 cubic meters (one truckload) per second. Total volume of discharge was pegged at 1.5 million to 3 million cu. m.
The toxic spill caused flood that buried villages along the riverbank. People living in low-lying areas had to flee to higher ground.
Fe Largado, 51, a resident of Barangay Bamban, remembers the panic and desperation that everyone in her village felt when they were told to leave immediately because a flood of toxic water was coming.
“Together with my husband and children, we ran as fast as we could to a higher place and stayed in the concrete house of an acquaintance, which was filled with other families as well. Because of fear and panic, we were able to bring only our marriage certificate, the birth certificates of our five children and our land title,” Largado recalls.
When neck-high floodwater engulfed the community, the Largados lost everything they had.
When the flood subsided the next day, Largado returned to nothing but mud all over the place where her nipa hut once stood. Wet and muddied clothes were strewn everywhere, some hanging from trees.
Her family’s only luxury—a transistor radio—was also nowhere. The family had to dig for their cookware and plates.
“We felt so helpless, not knowing how we would start rebuilding our lives,” Largado adds.
Laura Mogol, 73, a market vendor in Barangay Tanza, was asleep with her family when they heard shouts from neighbors that a flood was coming. She and her husband carried their toddlers and climbed up the sampaloc tree beside their house just as the floodwaters arrived.
“We were fortunate that my husband was able to prop up our house and had our teenage children climb to the top of its roof before the flood came,” Mogol narrates.
But their pigs and a cow were swept away.
Luisita Janda, 51, of Barangay Tabi, also survived by climbing onto the roof of their house with husband Aristejo, and their two sons, aged 13 and 11 years, and four-month-old daughter. They were only able to get down around noon of the following day when the flood subsided, she says.
The toxic mine spill was the worst nightmare for the villagers, mostly fishermen and farmers.
Murky, stinking sludge contaminated their sources of drinking water. It killed all fish and shrimps in the Boac River.
Rice paddies and vegetable farms were blanketed with sediments. Pigs, cattle and poultry were gone.
The Largados, who used to plant rice, bananas and vegetables, were left with nothing. Worst, they were given only P1,000 as compensation for their loss.
Mogol’s family, who earned through fishing, was catching none.
Her husband died three years ago and she now sells camote (sweet potato) for a living. The P24,000 compensation given by the mining company had long been gone.
The Boac River that used to feed hundreds of families has been declared biologically dead.
A report released on April 17, 1996, by the Department of Health found nine residents to have zinc levels in their blood more than 200 percent above safe limits.
Water samples were contaminated 1,300 percent above the human tolerable level of 0.5 microgram per 1/1000 liters.
Residents complained of skin irritations and respiratory problems, which could have been caused by the poisonous vapors from the mine tailings.
With villagers still suffering from the mine spill over a decade ago, there may be reason for them to rejoice when the Supreme Court held Marcopper accountable for what happened.
On March 8, the high court issued a writ of kalikasan in favor of three residents who sued Placer Dome Inc. and Barrick Gold Corp., the parent-companies of Marcopper (which shut down after the mine spill), on behalf of the victims.
The writ of kalikasan is a remedy available to persons, organizations and public interest groups whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthy ecology is violated or threatened by private or public entities involving environmental damage that prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two more cities and provinces.
An environmental watchdog, Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns, which has been helping the villagers seek payment for damage, hailed the decision. Its executive director, Miguel Magalang, says the issuance of the writ is a great victory for the people of Marinduque and nearby provinces.
Magalang says his group would continue to fight until Marinduque is declared a “no go zone for mining, whether large or small.”