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December 5, 2004

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Preliminary 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.

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 drilling”.

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. #

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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