Rapu Rapu island mine test run ends today

Feature story - August 10, 2006
Marred by accusations of spills and heavy-handed efforts to prevent independent monitoring, the island mine on Rapu Rapu finished its 30-day "test run" today. At dawn, Greenpeace activists scaled the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) building and unfurled a giant banner with the words "Lafayette Mining: Countdown to an Oceans Disaster".

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner in protest over the conduct of the 30-day test run which the Department of Energy and Natural Resources granted to Australian mining Lafayette last month.

"Lafayette's 30-day test run which ends today marks thebeginnings of another imminent disaster on the seas around Rapu Rapu,"said Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Beau Baconguis. In our view, the testrun has now been exposed as nothing more than a charade to pave the way forLafayette's untrammelled operations in Rapu Rapu," she added.

Background

The Australian mining company Lafayette was ordered to haltits operations late last year after two mine spills released cyanide and othercontaminants from the mine and into the sea around the island, causing massivefish kills. Subsequent investigations by a Presidential Fact-finding Committeein April-May 2006 revealed admissions from Lafayette officials that the companyhad been mining beyond its capacity even while the structural safeguards meantto minimize environmental damage were not yet completed. The DENR, however,allowed Lafayette to continue operations despite these lapses by granting thecompany a 30-day test run on July 11, 2006.

Recent spills and more to come?

A leak occurred during operations two days into the test run, but the DENR wasquick to dismiss this as a minor incident. Less than two weeks later on July18, 2006, residents reported a fish kill in the island's Mirikpitik creek.Residents have since reported more fish kills in creeks leading out from themine into the sea, but so far, aside from dismissing the incidents as resultsof "sabotage," there has been no active and convincing response onthe part of the company and the DENR to verify and explain these reports.

"If it proved anything at all, this test run demonstrated very clearlythat the government will do everything, including turning a blind eye to whatis now shaping up as another disaster in the making. The pretence involved inthe test run is so obvious, nobody is deceived by it," Baconguis stated.

Lack of transparency

Moreover, the heavy presence of military, police, and private security aroundthe island, including in small, remote barangays [villages] located well beyondthe mine's boundaries, belie DENR's and Lafayette's claims of full transparencyduring the 30-day test run. Monitoring and inspection by independent partiesconcerned about the negative effects of the mining operation are activelydiscouraged and even prevented.

David Andrade, a Greenpeace employee sent to investigatereports of a fish kill was detained at gunpoint while on public land - and hiswater samples were confiscated. 

Meanwhile, in Rapu Rapu Island as well as in Legaspi,inquiries at local government offices regarding the composition of the DENR-appointed mine monitoring committee during the test run have beenunsatisfactory.

"Controversies have shrouded Lafayette's test run from the beginning, butthe most glaring of all is its total lack of transparency," saidBaconguis, "This bodes ill for the future of the fragile marineenvironment that surrounds Rapu Rapu, and the people who depend on it - thatis, unless the DENR finally acts in the interest of the environment rather thanfor myopic corporate and economic interests."

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