We usher our return with a bad news reflecting the sorry state of environmental protection laws in this country. tsk-tsk.
Business Lafayette can proceed with Rapu-Rapu project
By Edu Punay
Updated March 23, 2009
MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has allowed Australian firm Lafayette Inc. and its subsidiaries to continue their mining operations on in Albay.
This after the second division of the appellate court junked a petition filed by groups of fishermen, farmers and students seeking to enjoin the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to allowing Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI) to continue its operations in the area due to alleged non-compliance with mining laws causing environmental destruction.
In a 21-page decision penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos, the CA junked the petition on the ground that petitioners represented by Quentin Emmanuel Calleja have failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing the case to the court.
“Petitioners, in bypassing the DENR secretary, prematurely invoked the court’s intervention, thus, depriving the herein complaint of a cause of action,” the CA said, affirming an earlier decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City issued on Sept. 6, 2006 that dismissed the class suit filed by the residents for a writ of preliminary injunction and/or permanent injunction against (LPI).
The CA agreed with the DENR that the petitioners should have first brought their complaint before the agency’s Pollution Adjudication Board before proceeding to the filing of the complaint before the court.
The appellate court believed that the petitioners ignored R.A.7942 (Philippine Mining Act of 1995), which gives the DENR, through the PAB, the authority to hear pollution-related complaints against mining firms.
It also noted that a water pollution and abatement case is now pending before the PAB for alleged contamination of bodies of water surrounding the mining area.
Although the CA recognized efforts to protect the environment, it stressed that it has a duty to implement established procedural rules.
“Until the matter is adjudicated, there is nothing for this court to act upon, much more, enjoin. The proper remedy is to allow the PAB to decide the abatement case. If there are grounds to contest the decision, petitioners may elevate the matter to the DENR secretary,” the appellate court explained.
Based on the records, LPI was given environmental compliance certificate to proceed with its Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project in the area on July 21, 2001.
In November 2005, LPI was found liable for the recurrence of cyanide spills, mine tailings and fish kills in the island, causing environmental destruction, community displacements, human rights violation, and livelihood loss to the local people.
In January 2006, the government suspended LPI’s operations on account of the toxic spills and ordered a fact-finding commission to investigate the effects of the mining operations of LPI in the municipalities of Rapu-Rapu in Albay and Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona , Bulusan and Bacon in Sorsogon.
The commission later recommended the cancellation of LPI’s ECC and the closure of its mining area.
However, in June 2006, then DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes allowed LPI to test-run its zinc and copper mine in Rapu-Rapu for 30 days to give the mining firms a chance to prove that it could operate the facility in compliance with environmental standards.
On July 9, 2006, the PAB issued a resolution ordering the Environment Management Bureau to issue a wastewater discharge permit to LPI and to lift the suspension of the firm’s chemical control order registration certificates to allow it to acquire cyanide operations.