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Green groups welcome court decision to award damages to survivors of Philippine mine disaster

The court ruled in favor of at least 30 plaintiffs against the Marcopper Mining Corporation for a mine spill in 1993

Environmental activist groups in the Philippines welcomed the decision of a local court this week to award damages to survivors of what has been dubbed as one of the worst mining disasters to hit the country

“More than two decades in the making, the landmark case is a cautionary tale on how the Mining Act of 1995 and related policies have been lacking teeth and biased toward big businesses and their political sponsors,” read a statement by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

In a decision dated May 16, 2022, a local court in the province of Marinduque ruled in favor of at least 30 plaintiffs against the Marcopper Mining Corporation, for a mine spill that wreaked havoc on the community in 1993.

On Dec. 6, 1993, parts of the structure of the Maguila-guila tailings dam owned by Marcopper Mining Corporation broke, flooding the Mogpog River with toxic waste. It released an overwhelming amount of silted water that submerged and destroyed properties and sources of livelihood, and exposed the people of Marinduque to serious health risks.

Three years after the incident, a drainage tunnel in Marcopper’s Taipan pit burst, releasing 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings that choked the Boac River, which was later declared unsafe. It also submerged rivers and killed aquatic life.

Father Angel Cortez, vice director of the General Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation of the Order of Friars Minor, said the court decision “is one step toward ecological justice.”

“We know that money is not enough to compensate the sufferings of the victims but the court ruling is a victory for the vulnerable community,” he said.

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The priest said the fight to hold the mining company accountable is “not yet over,” adding that it “must pay for the irreversible damage that it had done to the environment.”

Rodne Galicha, executive director of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, said the court ruling is a concrete response to the “cry of the poor, who suffer the most the impact of environmental plunder.”

He said the court decision, which came during the global observance of Laudato Si’ Week, “gives us hope that courts and governments will heed the call of Pope Francis to bring the interest of the poor and of the welfare of the Earth at the center of decisions and policies.”

Laudato si’ Week celebrates the anniversary of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter “Laudato si’: On Care For Our Common Home.”

“This is as much an indictment of our current mining policy regime as it is a celebration of the people’s determination and will to hold big mining accountable,” read the Kalikasan PNE statement.

In his decision Judge Emmanuel Recalde of Branch 38 of the Marinduque Regional Trial Court granted 200,000 pesos in “temperate damages” and 100,000 pesos in “moral damages” to each of at least 30 plaintiffs in the case filed in 2001.

Another one million pesos as “exemplary damages” was awarded to all the plaintiffs. The “temperate damages” had been paid per a memorandum agreement dated July 16, 1994.

“This is a victory for the plaintiffs who had waited two decades for justice as much as it is for the other plaintiffs who had unfortunately died in the course of this case,” said Elizabeth Manggol of the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns in a post on the website of the non-government Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center Inc.

The Mogpog River in Marinduque province is one of the few tributaries of Mogpog town’s main watershed area. The river has suffered from recurring floods due to siltation caused by the collapse of the Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Maguilaguila siltation dam in 1993. (Photo courtesy of Alyansa Tigil Mina)

Lawyer E.M. Taqueban, LRC executive director, which serves as legal counsel of the plaintiffs, said the Marcopper disaster is “a warning we should heed with the ongoing and planned large-scale projects in the country.”

“Large-scale mining projects present inevitable damage,” she said, adding that the pending “alternative minerals management bill” in Congress “is urgently needed to safeguard the environment from mining and prevent disasters like this.”

“With this ruling, Judge Recalde has shown that environmental cases do have a fighting chance in our judicial system,” said lawyer Ryan Roset, direct legal services coordinator of LRC, in a statement.

Lawyer Ryan Roset, direct legal services coordinator of LRC, said the “emblematic case” should serve as “a warning for communities who wish to embrace mining.”

“Litigating mining-related cases like this celebrated case is a slow march to justice,” he said, adding that communities must think their decisions through for the impact of the environment can be irreversible.

Roset said that in the case of Marinduque, the river affected by the spill is “all but dead.”

In a separate statement, the group Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance Against Mining) welcomed the court decision.

“It may have taken decades for the court to make a ruling, but we are nevertheless hopeful considering that justice is finally served to the victims of one of the worst mining disasters in the country,” said the group.

The anti-mining alliance said the decision “sends an encouraging signal to communities gravely affected by mining.”

“The ruling also underscores the importance of a new mining law that would put the environment and mining-affected communities above the interests of the mining industry,” said the group.

Pro-environment groups see the current mining laws as not enough to prevent destructive mining.

“A new law must be put in place to ensure mining disasters won’t happen again,” read the anti-mining alliance’s statement.

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