Fish kill confirmed near Australian mine in Philippines, priest denies sabotage

A local priest has denied allegations of sabotage as local government officials confirmed a recent fish kill near the site of an Australian majority owned mine on the central Philippines island of Rapu-Rapu.

UCA News reports that local officials who visited the coastal community has confirmed reports of the fish kill during a test-mining operation at a site where mining was suspended for environmental violations.

Councillor Wilson Guianan of Rapu-Rapu town led a local team inspecting the shoreline of Pagcolbon community in Rapu-Rapu and nearby waters soon after residents reported on 18 July that fish and other marine life lay dead in their area. Rapu-Rapu is about 370 kilometres southeast of Manila.

The town council approved and adopted Councillor Guianan's report in early August. In it, the team confirmed the presence of dead marine life and a strong odour coming from the fish kill site, reportedly near a mining site owned by the Melbourne-based mining company Lafayette.

The company which operates the project off the coasts of Albay and neighbouring Sorsogon provinces voluntarily halted operations in Rapu-Rapu last November after two mine-tail (extraction) spills killed fish in the surrounding sea in October.

The environmental department subsequently ordered the mines closed and temporarily suspended Lafayette's permit to operate. The company was also fined 10.7 million pesos (A$275,000) for violations of environmental rules. A government report says the tailing spills were "preventable."

In a company press release on 10 August, the Melbourne-based parent company, Lafayette Mining Limited, said it "categorically denies" the allegation of "a third toxic spill at the mine, at the end of last month", which the company described as a "falsehood."

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon headed an investigating commission that on 19 May recommended to President Gloria Arroyo closure of the Lafayette operation because it is unsafe. But the environmental department in June allowed Lafayette to conduct a 30-day test run of its pollution-control systems. The test run began in mid-July and reportedly still continues.

Bishop Arturo Bastes said on Monday that he "more than ever" is opposed to reopening Lafayette after the alleged spill on 18 July because he cannot compromise his people's safety.

The Bishop said the environmental department "tried to convince" the Philippine bishops at their semiannual conference in July that the 30-day test run would clear up issues against the mining firm.

UCA News says that the cause of the latest fish kill remains disputed. A Lafayette lawyer has accused local priest Fr Felino Bugauisan of poisoning the waters with pesticide to "sabotage" the test run. The priest, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, is assistant pastor in Rapu-Rapu.

Lafayette's spokesperson in the Philippines Julito Sarmiento claims that the alleged spill in July was an attempt by anti-mining advocates to discredit the company's test. He asserted that Thiodan, a pesticide, caused the reported foul smell.

Sarmiento also said mobile phone text messages concerning the alleged July spill and fish kill have been traced to Fr Bugauisan's phone. "It is impossible for us to affect the environment this time," Sarmiento insisted, "because we are only using water and non-mineralised ore."

Fr Bugauisan denies involvement in such "sabotage." He told UCA News he was in Manila at the time of the reported fish kill, and "no one can get near the mine or its operations since the military surrounds the place."

Town Council Inspects Site Of Fish Kill Being Blamed On Sabotage (UCA News, 15/8/06)
Lafayette Mining (Media Release, 10/8/06)
La Fayette mining test-run to take longer than 30 days - DENR (Tempo, 15/8/06)
Bishop condemns violent dispersal of anti-mining rally (MindaNews, 15/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Saving an island (Bulatlat, 20-26 November 2005)
Lafayette Mining
Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity

Oxfam weighs in on debate over Australian mine in Philippines (CathNews, 10/8/06)
Filipino bishop hammers Australian-owned goldmine (CathNews, 1/8/06)
Lafayette rejects community claims over spill (CathNews, 31/7/06)
Filipino Bishop disappointed over Lafayette mine decision (CathNews, 14/6/06)

Greenpeace ship arrives in RP to boost oceans campaign (INQ7, 15/8/06)

16 Aug 2006