On January 13, the waters of two rivers in Banaybanay town turned orange after heavy rains that lasted 12 hours dumped 88.1 millimeters of water on Davao Oriental in the southern Philippines.
The discoloration and siltation of the two rivers were attributed to the mining activity of Riverbend Consolidated Mining Corp.
The country’s Environment department said the heavy and continuous rains “pushed overburden materials that contributed to the overflowing of the silt pond” into the rivers.
While waiting for the results of the assessment conducted by authorities to determine the extent of the damage and the contamination that it caused to the rivers, we can just pray that what happened in Marinduque province in 1993 will not happen in Davao Oriental.
On December 6, 1993, the Maguila-guila siltation dam of Marcopper Mining Corporation in Mogpog town in Marinduque collapsed and flooded nearby communities with toxic residues of heavy metals and silt.
Two children were killed and at least 70 families in the riverside community were affected by mud floods, which wiped out houses, killed livestock, destroyed crops, and contaminated agricultural lands.
The human-induced tragedy forced many residents to leave their lands and search safer grounds and new jobs in other places.
The damage caused by the Marcopper spill in Marinduque province is so irreparable that the incident that happened almost three decades ago can still be felt by the local communities today.
In 2016, I met Gorgonio “Uncle Ugor” Licon, one of the affected residents, who lost his source of livelihood after all his fruit-bearing trees and root crops were damaged and his farm animals died.
He attempted to plant various crops, but the contaminated soil has already become hostile to plants, animals, and the residents.
“What I want Marcopper to do is to compensate us for all the sustained damages, as well as to rehabilitate the once-pristine river of Mogpog, so that despite our traumatic experience, we can now slowly pick up the shattered pieces of our lives,” Licon said.
Like many environmental advocates, Licon was elated and surprised when President Rodrigo Duterte warned mining proponents over environmental destruction during his State of the Nation Address in 2017.
“I am warning all mining operations and contractors to refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources,” said Duterte.
The president accused mining proponents of neglecting their responsibility to protect and preserve the environment.
Duterte’s statements were met with mixed reactions both from the mining sector and environmental advocates.
Some environmental defenders were optimistic that the Duterte administration would change the decades-old problem of mining and its impacts on local communities and the environment.
But nearing the end of his term, Duterte made a 180-degree turn. He lifted the ban on open-pit mining and the ban on new mining agreements.
Indigenous communities and environmental groups described Duterte’s moves as “cruel” and an insult to the people who have been suffering because of human-induced disasters such as the Marcopper tragedy.
The grave disregard of this government of the welfare of poor communities and the environment will result in many more disasters, especially now that the climate crisis is getting worse.
Arjay “Jing” Barrios is from Romblon. He is currently taking up law at the Arellano University School of Law.