November 8, 2007
LEGAZPI CITY -- Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda is now seeking the closure of Lafayette Philippines mining operation in the island town of Rapu-Rapu until such time that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has concluded its investigation on the latest incident of fishkill that had been reported in the area.
"If mining operations can not be discounted as probable cause for the toxic chemicals that triggered the fishkill, there is no other recourse for the provincial government but to seek its (the mining firm's) closure," Salceda told the Bicol Mail.
Salceda disclosed that the Environmental Management Bureau had released its initial findings regarding the fishkill incident in Rapu-Rapu last October 28 following heavy rains that hit the area.
Based on initial report by the EMB, there was no cyanide contamination and that the area was within "cyanide standard" which would not have caused fish kill.
A number of dead fish were found floating along the shorelines by residents some eight to ten kilometers away from the mine site after the heavy rains.
But Salceda appeared unconvinced by the initial findings of EMB Bicol.
"The EMB report being initial, we need the BFAR Report," he said, adding that "in the meantime, I am ordering the provincial agricultural service (PAS) and provincial cooperative and entrepreneur development office (PCEDO) to work out measures to counter possible negative consequences of the fishkill on livelihood."
Last October 31, thousands of the villagers in Rapu-Rapu town conducted a protest march against the operation of Lafayette and sought for the immediate closure of the mining plant.
Antonio Casitas, head servant of the Sagip Isla-Sagip Kapwa, Inc. led the protest action held at the Municipal Hall.
They demanded the municipal government to immediately petition for the closure of Lafayette due to recurring fishkill incidents.
The people demanded for the immediate release of assistance and compensation to affected communities.
Cecile Calleja, LPI vice-president for corporate affairs, was reportedly requesting that she be allowed to talk on behalf of the mining company but was flatly rejected by the protesters.
The villagers also asked the municipal officials to declare Rapu-Rapu as a calamity area.
"Declaring Rapu-Rapu as calamity area will be good to the people as well as for our campaign (against mining)," Parish Priest Fr. Felino Bagauisan told the Bicol mail.
He said meager as it may be, any assistance extended to the affected residents would be of help as they had suffered enough due to damages wrought by the mining operations.
Meanwhile, Lafayette Philippines Inc., through its lawyer, explained that the there was no mining operation when the reported fishkill took place.
But Bugauisan dismissed Lafayette�s argument as irrelevant. �What is relevant is the fact that there exists an impounded volume of poison at the mercy of rain which can overflow anytime,� he said.
As of this writing, villagers of Poblacion in Rapu-Rapu town claimed they feared about eating fish because of possible contamination.
"How many fishkills will it take before Lafayette owns up to its mistakes? How many Rapu-Rapu residents have to go hungry before the Philippine government closes the mine for good?" Baguaisan asked.