Priest threatens to take Aussie mine to court

A Filipino priest has threatened to take a Melbourne-based mining company "to the Supreme Court to stop it" from fully reopening its Philippine mine after it was shut because of two cyanide spills.

According to a Bloomberg report, Fr Ino Bugauisan of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said that the company has damaged the environment.

"This mine should never be allowed to reopen," he said this week. "We will go to the Supreme Court to stop it."

Bloomberg reports that the Conference represents the country's Catholic's hierarchy, an influential body in the largely Catholic nation.

The mine based in Rapu Rapu was ordered by the government to suspend operations last November after the spills, which affected local creeks.

Lafayette paid a fine of 10.4 million pesos (A$270,000) for the two spills, the company said in July. The closure was costing $50,000 a day in lost production, the company said last year.

The venture has since restarted work under government supervision, pending full clearance from the authorities that practices are safe.

The project, the first overseas-funded mine to open under relaxed investment rules, is a test case for President Gloria Arroyo, who wants to attract overseas investment to boost growth. The Southeast Asian nation's mineral wealth may be worth up to $1 trillion, the government has said.

A Lafayette spokesperson said: "We've done all that's required by the government to ensure that last year's spills will not be repeated."

Still, environmentalist and church groups said Lafayette's mine work had been killing fish during the period of testing. The company rejected that charge.

"They haven't even been allowed to officially reopen the mine and they're already causing another fish kill," said Beau Baconguis, a campaigner at Greenpeace International in Manila.

Lafayette said the fish died in July, between the test's first and second stages. "There was no way that could have been caused by us because the mine wasn't even running," said Joey Cubias, another spokesman for Lafayette's Philippine unit. The fish were killed by pesticides, not cyanide, Cubias added.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that three foreign firms are interested in investing in the gold and copper mine if Manila allows it to reopen, the company's lawyer said.

Bayani Agabin said prospective investors included firms from Singapore, Australia and Canada but declined to identify them. Agabin said officials from the three firms had visited the Rapu Rapu island.

(Bloomberg 7/9/06)
Foreign firms keen on Lafayette mine (The Age 7/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
Lafayette Mining
Saving an Island (Bulatlat, 20-26 November 2005)

Oxfam weighs in on debate over Australian mine in Philippines (CathNews, 10/8/06)
Fish kill confirmed near Australian mine in Philippines, priest denies sabotage (CathNews, 16/8/06)
Lafayette rejects community claims over spill (CathNews 31/7/06)
Filipino Bishop disappointed over Lafayette mine decision (CathNews 14/6/06)

8 Sep 2006