Mining to blame for typhoon deaths, Filipino priest says

Landslides caused by mining methods were to blame for the deaths of 13 parishioners at a parish on Rapu Rapu island, Philippines, a local priest says, but a representative of Australian-managed Lafayette Mining has denied the claims.

UCA News reports that Rapu Rapu priest Fr Felino Bugauisan says that his parish had buried 13 adults and children, including the unborn child of a pregnant woman among the victims after floodwaters caused by Typhoon Durian wreaked havoc on two villages near the mine site on the island.

Fr Bugauisan of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity, serves as assistant parish priest at St Joseph the Worker Parish on Rapu Rapu in Legazpi diocese, about 365 kilometres southeast of Manila, where Lafayette Mining, a joint Australian and Philippine venture, runs a metal-mining operation.

The Lafayette mining site is near the villages of Malobago and Tinopan. UCA News quotes the priest as saying that landslide engulfed houses in Malobago after a retaining wall on the Lafayette site collapsed during the typhoon.

Radio reports reaching Legazpi City said that at least 24 people might have been trapped in landslides, Fr Paulo Barandon, who heads relief operations for the diocese told UCA News.

Fr Bugauisan said that Lafayette mining structures also were damaged by the storm.

According to Fr Buguaisan, Lafayette's "constant dynamite blasting, denudation of the mountainous cover and open-pit type mining operations exacerbated" the impact of Typhoon Durian.

"Rapu-Rapu is in a typhoon belt and the open-pit mining they use will always end in disaster," he maintained.

However, in Manila, Lafayette spokesman Bayani Agabin, told UCA News that Lafayette shut down operations after Typhoon Durian while restoring electricity and buildings destroyed by typhoon winds. He insisted there was no environmental damage at the mine site.

"Let me stress the damage is to the physical plant, and there is no recorded damage to the environment," the lawyer stated.

He said he was unaware of any claims made by Fr Bugauisan related to typhoon damage but added that if the priest says the landslides were caused by Lafayette's operations, then the claim has no basis.

According to Agabin, "the area where the landslides occurred is two kilometres and two ridges away from the mine site." He also said Lafayette rescuers "were the first to respond and pulled out two buried victims."

Lafayette Philippines president, Carlos Dominguez, said "our dams, ponds, the open pit and other environmental infrastructure incurred zero damage despite strong winds and rains, with plenty to spare."

"The environment was fully protected, as we had promised early this year that we would be the model of responsible mining here," he added according to an ABN-CBN News report.

"Our environmental systems could not have been subjected to a worse test and we passed with flying colors," he said. "That allowed us to shift our people and quickly mobilize (them) to help in rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of typhoon [Durian]."

In May a commission the government set up with Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon as its head recommended closing the mine after earlier spills until Lafayette developed "new technology" that could guarantee safer operations.

However, in June the environment department allowed Lafayette to resume operations on a test basis after it paid a 10.7-million-peso (A$ 250,000) fine. The test permit was then extended.

Priest Blames Typhoon Deaths On Mining (UCA News, 15/12/06)
Catholic Priest Blames Typhoon Deaths On Mining (Catholic Online, 15/12/06)
DENR to assess Albay mine site (ABS-CBN News, 18/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Lafayette Mining
Saving an Island (Bulatlat, 20-26 November 2005)

Philippines priest appeals for fair media coverage of mine spill (CathNews, 2/11/06)
Priest threatens to take Aussie mine to court (CathNews, 8/9/06)
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)

18 Dec 2006