Economy

In Philippines, Seeking Environmental Justice 20 Years After Mining Disaster

Elisa Hernandez used to earn a living washing her community’s laundry
Elisa Hernandez used to earn a living washing her community’s laundry
Jason Strother

MARINDUQUE â€" Elisa Hernandez dips her yellow blouse into the Boac River’s rushing water and then slaps it up against the shoreline’s gray stones.

The 73-year-old used to earn a living washing her whole community’s laundry this way. “We felt at home in this river ... It was so clean, we played in it and we used to catch a lot of fish here too,” she says.

But that all changed in March 1996, when a drainage pipe inside a copper mine burst about 20 kilometers upstream.

Millions of tons of toxic mine waste, including lead and arsenic, flooded into the river. At the time, it was the worst mining disaster in the history of Philippines. Many of the residents of the island province of Marinduque are farmers and fishermen. For Hernandez and thousands of others, the spill killed their main source of income, and they have never fully recovered.

“After the incident, I started to break out with skin diseases from the toxins in the water. I’m cured now but people no longer wanted me to wash their clothes in the river,” Hernandez says.

Hernandez was party to a decade-long lawsuit against Barrick Gold Corp, the Canadian firm that bought Placer Dome, the company that ran the Marcopper mine. The plaintiffs alleged the company polluted Marinduque’s land, waterways and poisoned its residents.

A judge in the United States dismissed the case last year on jurisdiction grounds. Despite the court verdict, the province isn’t giving up its fight, says Adeline Angeles, a local legislator and member of the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns, an organization that was part of the lawsuit.

Angeles says when mining began on her island in the 60s, people believed that it would make the province rich. “After decades of mining, Marinduque is one of the poorest provinces in the entire archipelago,” Angeles says. “Our waters are silted, the rivers cannot be used for irrigation and our farmers are poorer.”

The Canadian mining company Barrick Gold says $50 million in compensation has already been paid for the disaster. The Marinduque government says much of that was never received. Today, the Marcopper site sits abandoned.

It took some convincing and a generous fare to persuade a truck driver to take me into the site. Heading up the rocky road, I sit in the back as we drive past armed guards. There’s an overgrown golf course here and even an airplane landing strip.

In the distance is a barren hilltop, which was Marcopper’s first open-pit mine.

We arrive at the second pit, which is filled up with metallic blue water and surrounded by a gravelly moonscape. In the Philippines, Marinduque has become the symbol of anti-mining activism. It’s a reminder of what can go wrong when foreign firms from wealthy nations operate virtually unchecked in the developing world.

Anti-mining advocates protest against what they say is the continued plundering of resources in the Philippines. They say foreign mining companies give little back to the communities they devastate. “Since the birth of the Philippines, foreign countries, foreign nationals or foreign corporations go here because of rich minerals,” says Camilo Manio of the anti-mining coalition Ayansa Tigil Mina group, saying that it started with Spain, then the U.S. and Japan. Now Chinese, Australian and Canadian firms all run mines here.

Citing government figures, Camilo says it’s a myth that mining makes the Philippines wealthier. “Only 2% from mining industries was given to local governments,” Camilo says, adding that mining contributes less than 1% to the country's GDP.

The group is calling for a ban on foreign mining companies in the Philippines.

Roland De Jesus, a director of the Mines and Geoscience Bureau in Manila, says mining in the Philippines is safer now. As for Marinduque, he says, it’s not Manila’s responsibility to clean up the mess that a private company left behind. But he offers another solution. “One of the alternatives is to resume mining,” he says. According to De Jesus, “based on the actual production rate of the company when they suddenly stopped, they still have about 17 years of mine life.” He says that’s only an alternative if a company has the financial and technical capabilities to rehabilitate the damage caused by the previous operator.

De Jesus adds that a disaster like the one in Marinduque won’t happen again because new laws demand accountability for environmental damage. “I am confident we have a good mining law, one of the best in the world. Before there was a lack of transparency,” says De Jesus.

Angeles, the environmental advocate in Marinduque, says reopening that mine is an unacceptable option. “We cannot take another risk.” The island is now moving forward with launching a new lawsuit against the mining firm in Canada. But any compensation might not come soon enough.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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