End of Lafayette’s test run marks start of oceans disaster

Press release - August 10, 2006
Greenpeace activists today scaled the roof of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) building in Quezon City and unfurled a giant banner with the words "Lafayette Mining: Countdown to an Oceans Disaster," in protest over the conduct of the 30-day test run granted by the DENR to Lafayette Mining which the group denounced as a complete charade.

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

Lafayette was ordered to halt its operations late last year after two mine spills released cyanide and other contaminants from the mine and into the sea around the island, causing massive fish kills. Subsequent investigations by a Presidential Factfinding Committee in April-May 2006 revealed admissions from Lafayette officials that the company had been

mining beyond its capacity even while the structural safeguards meant to minimize environmental damage were not yet completed. The DENR, however, allowed Lafayette to continue operations despite these lapses by granting the company a 30-day test run on July 11, 2006.

A leak occurred during operations two days into the test run, but the DENR was quick to dismiss this as a minor incident. Less than two weeks later on July 18, 2006, residents reported a fish kill  in the island's Mirikpitik creek. Residents have since reported more fishkills in creeks leading out from the mine into the sea, but so far, aside from dismissing the incidents as results of "sabotage," there has been no active and convincing response on the part of the company and the DENR to verify and explain these reports.

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

Moreover, the heavy presence of military, police, and private security around the island, including in small, remote barangays located well beyond the mine's boundaries, belie DENR's and Lafayette's claims of full transparency during the 30-day test run. Monitoring and inspection by independent parties concerned about the negative effects of the mining operation are actively discouraged and even prevented(1). 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 been unsatisfactory.

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

Other contacts: Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics Campaigner, +63 917 803 6077 Lea Guerrero, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Media Campaigner, +63 916 374 4969

Notes: Greenpeace maintains that pollution from Lafayette’s mining operations will seriously damage Rapu Rapu and its surrounding fragile marine ecosystem. The waters of the Bicol region are acknowledged as the feeding grounds and migratory route of the whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. It is also home to five of the seven known marine turtles in the world, and its rich sea grass beds and mangroves, which make for a high marine biodiversity index, have turned the area into exceptionally rich fishing grounds for the region’s fishermen. Rapu Rapu island is a dangerous place for a mine: not only is it situated along the country’s typhoon belt, but also along a major fault, making it a high-risk area for mining catastrophes. (1)Greenpeace employee David Andrade was detained and questioned by police and unidentified security personnel in Brgy. Pagcolbon, Rapu Rapu island at 8:45AM 25 July 2006 after he was apprehended for obtaining water samples from Mirikpitik creek. Two companions, a local guide and a boat man, were taken with him. They were then brought first to Pagcolbon’s town hall then to the police headquarters in Rapu Rapu town and released shortly after noon of the same day. Police did not identify under what charge he was being held. Greenpeace was conducting this water sampling as a way of validating recent reports of a fish kill which occurred in the area last week and which Lafayette claims to be a case of “sabotage.”