…Our country is in peril. All the living systems on land and in the seas around us are being ruthlessly exploited. The damage to date is extensive and, sad to say, is often irreversible…We ask the government not to pursue short-term economic gains at the expensive of long-term ecological damage. We suggest that the Government… promote an awareness of the fragility and limited carrying capacity of our islands' eco- systems and advocate measures designed to support ecologically sustainable development.
In the summer of 2007, on a visit to the Philippines, Development and Peace members and staff were forcibly reminded that irresponsible mining practices are not exclusively the domain of some Canadian companies when they visited the area around the Rapu Rapu mine, operated by the Australian mining company Lafayette Mining Ltd, on this island in the Albay Gulf, in Luzon province, the Philippines.
Today, January 29th, and the twentieth anniversary of the Filipino Bishops' Pastoral letter on Ecology that became known as "What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?", Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon Diocese, Philippines, has written an impassioned letter imploring the Filipino government to suspend operations at this Australian owned and operated open pit gold, silver and copper mining operation on the island of Rapu Rapu.
In June 2007, as part of a visit organized by a Filipino partner – the Centre for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils) - Development and Peace members and staff visited the area of the Rapu Rapu mine, situtated on this mountainous island in the Albay Gulf. They also met with Bishop Bastes, who is helping spearhead the continuing effort to gain justice for the people of his diocese, so adversely affected by the mining operations.
Bishop Bastes, who is also the former chairman of a government appointed Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission, refers in his letter to the Australian company’s December 2007 decision to go under "voluntary administration", and asks: "How many of us forewarned the Administration that the project is not socially, technically, environmentally and financially feasible but, still they allowed it to proceed?" Despite a financial situation that amounts to bankruptcy, Lafayette Mining Ltd has filed a petition with the Filipino courts to continue its operations, while it awaits further funding from other sources. The project is currently funded by a consortium of banks and shareholders.
The Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission, mandated by the government to investigate the effect on people's health and the environment around the Rapu Rapu mine, concluded in 2006 that environmental and social impact assessment processes of the project were inadequate, and that serious toxic spills showed breaches of basic industry practices. Other conclusions included facts such as the company had not obtained from the local population a social licence to operate and that its pressure tactics on local authorities had eroded democracy and citizens' rights in the area. Rapu Rapu was also the site of several important fish kills from November 2005, after a series of toxic spills from the mining operations.
According to Bishop Bastes, since the conclusions of the Commission, the government Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) has failed to ensure implementation by the company of the recommended environmental mitigation measures, even though the DENR acknowledged and agreed with the Commission findings. Neither has the environmental authority required the company to set aside funds for the final clean up and rehabilitation of the mine.
Voices seeking to be heard
Bishop Bastes' letter and the conclusions of the Rapu Rapu Commission echo the critiques of this Australian company by Development and Peace partner CEC-Phils. In July 2007, Lafayette filed libel charges in Filipino court against CEC-Phils, for over US$200,000. Frances Quimpo, director of CEC-Phils has described the charges as a form of harassment and intimidation, which aim to encourage self-censorship of non-governmental organizations monitoring mining issues.