RAPU-RAPU, ALBAY (Nov. 14) – Dr. Emelina Regis of Ateneo de Naga University's Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research (INECAR), along with three of the institute's staff went to Rapu-Rapu island in Albay to conduct preliminary investigations into the reported fishkill from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2.
The team, which arrived on Rapu-Rapu Nov. 7, conducted firsthand interviews with local fishermen and townspeople. Dr. Regis and her team were also able to collect soil samples inside Lafayette's mining operations area. Currently, the samples are waiting testing to verify if toxic substances are indeed present in the immediate vicinity of the mine.
Dr. Regis and her team dismissed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' official findings which said that the fishkill was most likely caused by excessive rainwater in the sea, a result of the continuous rains in the area. A preliminary investigation of the Bureau of Fishes and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) also disproved claims of groups opposing the mining firm that it was responsible for the deaths of the fishes. According to Regis, they were able to get witnesses' accounts, confirming the fishkills, not only near the town proper, but in several areas near the mine.
"Dead fishes were seen here. Although many said there weren't any, a man said that it was difficult to talk about the fishkill because they are employees of Lafayette. A barangay councilor here in Binosawan confirmed the fishkill," Dr. Regis said in Filipino, while pointing at a map of Rapu-Rapu.
Barangay Binosawan is 9.5 kilometers away from the main site of the fishkill, off the poblacion or town proper of Rapu-Rapu while the Lafayette mines are just 2 kilometers from the barangay.
Dr. Regis believes that the fishes died near the mine's vicinity but were carried by strong waves to the west, finally settling and collecting near the pier at the town proper. "Because the Northeast monsoon blows this way (southwest), the dead fishes might have floated to this direction. Also, whatever killed the fishes most likely floated in the same direction. It's called surface-driven wave," Dr. Regis added.
The team from Ateneo de Naga stayed for four days on the island, collecting soil samples and gathering data. Dr. Regis clarified that there is still insufficient information to come up with a final conclusion into the fishkills. A final conclusion will be released after the testing of soil samples taken near the mines.
In the meantime, Stephen Prestado, a correspondent for BikolXpress who joined the Ateneo team, was seized by policemen while he was documenting the team’s investigation.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, policemen allegedly seized Prestado and Antonio Casitas of Sagip Isla and Umalpas Ka during an assembly near the Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church and taken to the police station. According to Prestado, heavily armed policemen arrived at the venue of the assembly and forcibly arrested them. His camcorder and tapes were taken from him and they were interrogated for an hour before they were released without charges. The camcorder and tapes were returned afterwards.
Prestado's account is contrary to subsequent media reports, in which Rapu-Rapu Officer in Charge (OIC) Police Chief Fernando Orbis said that the men were "invited" by the policemen.