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Philippines Orders Cleanup of Mines Before Rains

by Dolly Aglay REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

MANILA - The Philippines said on Tuesday it had ordered owners of two mining areas in the country to clean up and improve their infrastructures before the start of the rainy season.

"With the onset of La Nina, we have to take the necessary precautions to ensure that some of the abandoned mines will not pose any hazard to the environment," Angelo Reyes, secretary of the environment department, told a news conference.

Meteorologists have said cool sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific point to a La Nina weather phenomenon, which could result in storm surges and strong winds in some parts in Asia.

The rainy season in the Philippines usually starts in May and ends in September.

Reyes said he had ordered the owners of Marcopper Mining Corp. to reduce the water level at their Tapian pit and clean up the pond area of their Maguila-guila silt dam in Marinduque province.

"Should an untoward incident happen for failure to implement this directive, the department will be constrained to file appropriate action," Reyes said in a letter sent to Placer Dome Inc. and the current owners of Marcopper.

The province of Marinduque served a lawsuit in the United States last October against Placer Dome, Canada's second-largest gold miner which previously owned 40 percent of Marcopper.

The government of Marinduque is seeking compensation for damage caused when tonnes of mine waste from a copper mill owned by Marcopper spilt in to the Boac River, 150 km (94 miles) south of Manila in March 1996.

Placer Dome, which previously said it has spent millions of dollars to help clean up the area and compensate residents, sold its stake in Marcopper in 1997.

"You cannot operate a mine and then just abandon it. You have to clean up the mess," Reyes said.

Reyes also ordered Dizon Copper Silver Mines Inc. and Benguet Corp. to fix the collapsed spillway of its Bayarong tailings dam at their mine site in Zambales province in northern Philippines.

He also ordered both firms to rehabilitate their Camalca waste dump.

"Given the potential danger to the environment and to life and property posed by the Camalca waste dump and the Bayarong tailings dam, please be directed that your company shall be held liable should any untoward incident occur as a result of your failure to implement these directives," he said.

Reyes said Dizon owned the mine site in Zambales while Benguet was the operator.

The Philippines is trying to lure foreign investors to pour $8.5 billion into 23 priority mining projects and 37 exploration deals for the sector's revival after years of neglect.

Early last month, the government bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church to review a law allowing foreign firms to own up to 100 percent of local projects from 40 percent previously to further strengthen its environmental provisions.

"We had a dialogue with the bishops and their concern is to strengthen the laws, provide it more teeth so that environment would be better protected," Reyes said.

He said legislators have yet to come up with their recommendations.

Barrick bought Placer Dome in 2006.

 

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