Report of the October 25-26 EIM: Environmental Investigatory
Mission documents continuing environmental damage caused by Lepanto
Another Environmental Investigatory
Mission (EIM) along the Abra River was organized by the Save the
Abra River Movement (STARM) last October 25-26, 2004. Over 116 individuals
were mobilized. The EIM was divided into the Upper Abra River team
which covered Mankayan, Benguet down to Cervantes and Quirino, Ilocos
Sur and the Lower Abra River team which surveyed the Abra and lower
Ilocos Sur segments of the river. Members of the EIM team included
the Saint Louis University, University of the Philippines Baguio,
Benguet State University, Easter School, Itogon National High School,
the University of Northern Philippines and Abra State Institute
for Science and Technology. Other participants came from the Accion
Contra el Hambre, United Church of Christ in the Philippines and
in Canada, the Health Action Information Network and the Cordillera
People’s Alliance. Legal assistance was provided by the Cordillera
Human Rights Organization and Tanggol Kalikasan. Members of the
media, from VIACOMM, radio DZEQ and Northern Dispatch documented
The EIM was conducted in partnership with MAQUITACDG (Mankayan,
Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a-Gunglo, the alliance of people’s
organization living along the Upper Abra River). At various points
along the Abra River, the EIM team was hosted by Abra Governor Vicente
“Vicsyd” Valera, Jr. and his wife Bangued Mayor Zita
“Ching” Valera, Ilocos Sur Provincial Governor Luis
“Chavit” Singson, the Ilocos Sur Provincial Board, the
municipal governments of Cervantes, Quirino and Vigan, Ilocos Sur,
Mankayan, Benguet and Manabo, Abra, the barangays of Puro, Casibir,
Sallacong and San Mariano, Ilocos Sur and Pakiling, Abra. Most of
these supportive LGUs had recently made resolutions demanding a
stop to further Lepanto expansion.
Water sampling for physicochemical testing was conducted at 17
points along the Abra River from Mankayan, Benguet all the way down
to Abra and the mouth of the Abra River in Caoayan and Santa, Ilocos
Sur. Soil samples were also collected from at least 6 sites. Water
sampling started at the Carbon-in-Pulp (CIP) Mill Outlet of Lepanto
Consolidated Mining Corporation in contrast to the DENR-Lepanto
Multi-Partite Monitoring Team which starts its water sampling only
at Tailings Dam 5A. Pollution must be measured from the CIP Mill
Outlet since discharge from this area already comes in contact with
the environment and the nearby communities of Paalaban and Cabitin.
Samples taken from the CIP Mill outlet registered an acidic pH
and emitted a strong acetone-like smell. Dissolved oxygen readings
at the CIP Mill Outlet and at Tailings Dam 5A registered below 2
mg/L. This puts into question Lepanto’s recent claim that
fish can be found swimming in Tailings Dam 5A as aquatic life cannot
survive in conditions where dissolved oxygen is below 2 mg/L.
Soil sampling in the vicinity of Tailings Dam 5A proved dangerous
for the EIM team as digging of less than 1 meter in depth resulted
in water flowing into the site of digging. The soil under the surface
was an unstable slurry of sand, soil and water. The EIM soils team
feared that this was an indication of the instability of the ground
all around Tailings Dam 5A.
Soil sampling done in Camay, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur revealed foul-smelling,
blackened soil at less than a meter below the surface. Palay in
this area were noted to be stunted and had a burnt appearance. Local
farmers attribute this to the overflowing of river water and tailings
into their ricefields during heavy rain fall in recent years.
As evidence of continued environmental degradation of the Abra
River by Lepanto were collected by the EIM team, testimonies of
community residents at the newly re-opened mine exhaust tunnel at
Sitio Pacda, Palasaan, Mankayan, Benguet put into question Lepanto’s
claims that the exhaust tunnel posed no danger.
Lepanto has obtained a temporary permit to operate the exhaust
tunnel from the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau. Residents
of Sitio Pacda complained of nasal irritation from the smoke they
observed coming from the exhaust at various times of the day, usually
late at night or in the early morning. Banana plants have been noted
to be wilting abnormally.
In 1997, the air pollution from the Tohking exhaust tunnel caused
nausea and vomiting, dizziness and abdominal pain among the residents.
Domestic animals also developed eye irritation/ reddening and nosebleed.
It is feared that the same thing will happen again soon.
Interview with Lakay Nick Sab-it, the owner of the land where
the exhaust tunnel is located, reveals how deception was employed
by Lepanto in obtaining right to the land. Lakay Sab-it was payed
a mere P30,000 for the lease of his 2,000 square meter lot for 25
years. The elderly man was told that the tunnel was only going to
be used for air intake. However, he was made to sign a contract
that permitted use of his land “for a sandfill line, ventilation
raise and other related mining works, including the conduct of exploratory
Members of the media interviewed Mayor Manalo Galuten of Mankayan,
Benguet to secure a copy of a petition to open the exhaust tunnel
allegedly signed by Lepanto workers. Mayor Galuten denied seeing
this petition. He also denied signing any Sangguniang Bayan resolution
supporting this petition.
Interviews made among Lepanto workers revealed that they were
recently made to sign a blank sheet by their supervisors, at the
start of their work shift. They were not given the opportunity to
read the actual petition they were signing.
At the conclusion of the Environmental Investigatory Mission,
members of the Save the Abra River Movement hung a streamer at the
Banaoang bridge which read “Save the Abra River! Stop Lepanto
expansion!” They vowed to regularize the conduct of such EIMs
until pollution of the Abra River is halted and the River runs clear
once again. #