06 July 2006

pastoral letter: mining in rapu-rapu

in light of relatively recent events: the 11 and 31 oct 2005 mine spills in rapu-rapu island, albay; the fish kills and the subsequent fish scare; the final report of the rapu-rapu fact-finding commission, also known as the bastes commission, on 19 may 2006; the recent DENR announcement allowing a 30-day test run of mining operations; & other events pertaining to the lafayette mining operations in rapu-rapu, our diocese, thru bp. quiambao, released a pastoral letter, or bulletin, reiterating our consistent stand: rapu-rapu is not suitable for mining, thus, stop mining, close the lafayette mine. just read the details below.
this will be read in a press con on 11 july, so we issued an embargo to members of the press who have gotten hold of early copies of this pastoral letter. there will be a rally in the afternoon of the same day, dubbed the 'black tuesday' grand rally against mining. we urge participants to wear black to express mourning for DENR’s approval of a 30-day test run of mining operations and indignation at the govt’s and lafayette’s sustained indifference to stop the harm being done to our land and people. those who can't join the rally, are asked wear black even in the confines of their school or office. those who can't wear black, a black arm band may do.
The Chancery
Legazpi City

PASTORAL BULLETIN NO. 05, Series of 2006

To: Clergy, Religious, Heads of CEAL Schools, Lay Faithful, Men and Women of good will

Dear People of God:

“Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell” (Num 35,34).

The Mine Spill Incidents. On 11 and 31 October 2005, two mine spill incidents took place at the mining site of Lafayette Philippines, Inc. (LPI), and its two subsidiaries, i.e., Rapu-Rapu Minerals, Inc. (RRMI) and Rapu-Rapu Processing, Inc. (RRPI), in the island municipality of Rapu-Rapu, Albay. The mine spills flowed into nearby creeks and rivers and into the open sea.

After both incidents, fish kill ensued in several bodies of water in Rapu-Rapu. Fish kills were also reported to have occurred on several occasions in November 2005 in the coastal waters of Sorsogon and the Albay Gulf. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) found positive for cyanide several fish kill samples submitted by the Mayor of Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon. After the fish kill came the fish scare which adversely affected the lives and livelihood of fisher folk families, fish traders and the fish consuming public.

Three months after the last mine spill, a study conducted by a team from the University of the Philippines–Natural Science Research Institute (UP-NSRI) reported that Sorsogon’s, as well as Albay’s waters, fish and underwater sediments are safe. However, the team admitted that its findings were not conclusive and need further studies. Further, UP-NSRI and various other groups and individuals, which also conducted different studies taken at different periods within five months following the tailings incidents, yield a telling common result: “the presence of toxic heavy metals in the soil, water, and sediment samples and in the urine and blood of some of the patients coming from communities near the mine site” (RRFFC Final Report).

The Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission (RRFFC), created by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and headed by Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, reported, among others, the following findings:

1. “Lafayette is guilty of irresponsibility for starting operations prior to the completion of environmental protection infrastructure.” “11 of 29 conditionalities and subconditionalities contained in the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) were violated by the LPI Group.”
2. “The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and its bureaus, i.e., the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), its regional offices, including its monitoring team… did not have sufficient capability of monitoring mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. Worse, though, is that if they had the capability then they utterly lacked will.” The Mines Rehabilitation Fund Committee (MRFC) and the Multi-partite Monitoring Team (MMT) were also found to have exhibited poor monitoring and management capability.
3. The Commission also noted the hasty and irregular manner by which Lafayette was able to secure its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) in the first place, despite vehement opposition voices raising valid concerns, such as, its dubious social acceptability and its potential to harm the environment, and despite a Senate committee investigation, led by former Senator Jaworski, which recommended the non-issuance of an ECC.

The Church’s Involvement on Mining and Environmental Concerns. In November 1999, when Lafayette and another mining company, Miracle Mile, were still in the process of initial exploration and application for the necessary permits, the Diocese released a Pastoral Letter on the “Rapu-Rapu Island Mining Case”, warning, among others, that:

“The much touted economic development and industrial growth to be brought upon by the mining companies will definitely be beneficial only to them and to certain government officials. In fact, it will only aggravate the poverty of the people since the land will be taken away from them and the agricultural and marine life of the island will be gradually and systematically destroyed. The livelihood programs being offered by the mining companies are mere palliatives and are actually meant to lure the people into acquiescing to their demands and activities… The countless effects of the toxic wastes and mineral tailings will be terribly felt and will gravely affect the livelihood and health of the people.”

Such prophetic words. Some though question the Church’s involvement in the issues of mining in general and the mine spill incidents in Rapu-Rapu. The answer is simple: our preaching and living the Gospel demands the prophetic duty of teaching about the integrity of God’s creation and our responsibility as stewards of creation, and, whenever necessary, of speaking against the grave injustice of pursuing profit at the expense of the environment and people’s lives, especially, those of the poor. Pope Benedict XVI, in his very first encyclical, says that “the social concern is as essential to [the Church’s] mission as the ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel” (Deus Caritas Est 22).

Call to Action. “Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, you do unto Me” (Mt 25,40).

Thus, we, your bishops and priests, together with the Diocesan Social Action Commission, would like to reiterate what we have held consistently from the very start: that mining must not be conducted in Rapu-Rapu and that the best course of action is the immediate closure of the Lafayette mine.

Our position is supported by the findings of the Ateneo de Naga University–Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research (INECAR) which has been doing scientific research for more than six years now in Rapu-Rapu. Studies done by Dr. Emelina Regis, INECAR Director, find the island gravely unsuitable for mining due to the following reasons:

“[It is an] island ecosystem with steep slopes; [it has a] Type II climate, [i.e.,] there is no dry season, with very pronounced wet period from November to January; [it is] located along the typhoon path; and [it has] massive iron sulfide rocks with acid-generating capacity or Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)... The resulting impacts of AMD include death to living organisms and release of toxic heavy metals that causes loss of productivity of aquatic and terrestrial plants… [and ultimately,] destruction of livelihood in agriculture and fisheries… These impacts will persist for a long time. Heavy rains will continue to erode loosened contaminated soil. Silt and tailings that poison the land and sea will leave behind unproductive land and dead coral reefs… There is no justice in sacrificing the survival of generations of people and other living organisms for the short-term gains of a few.” (INECAR Position Paper regarding mining in Rapu-Rapu: Closure of Lafayette Mine, 15 February 2006)

For the same reasons, we express our opposition to the announced 30-day Temporary Lifting Order (TLO) by the DENR that will allow a three-stage test run of mining operations by RRMI and RRPI, which many believe is but a ploy and a prelude to regular operations.

We also support the recommendations of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission (RRFFC). In particular, we wish to highlight some of these recommendations and appeal to the President, the DENR Secretary, officials of local government units (LGUs) and concerned government agencies, to consider them as moral imperatives:
1. “Cancel the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of RRMI and RRPI” for serious violations of the ECC conditionalities and other previously-mentioned grounds.
2. “Cancel the RRMI and RRPI Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) registration on the basis of the irregularities found (by the RRFFC) and for the reason that the Rapu-Rapu LGU has been unduly deprived of local taxes.”
3. Review R.A. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, and its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations, and repeal provisions that put the interest of the Filipino people at a disadvantage.

We call on the faithful in the parishes and religious communities, and men and women of faith and good will, to act and unite to protect our environment from further degradation, and to support the people of Rapu-Rapu and those in nearby towns in Albay and Sorsogon who are adversely affected by Lafayette’s mining operations. A Diocesan Circular, released alongside this Pastoral Bulletin, details our Diocese’s plan for immediate actions.

Conclusion. No doubt, our present situation reflects what the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) refers to in its “Statement on Mining Issues and Concerns”, released on 29 January 2006, which is but a repeat of what the bishops previously declared in 1998:

“[The] government[‘s] mining policy is offering our lands to foreigners, with liberal conditions, while our people continue to grow in poverty… [Further,] the adverse social impact on the affected communities far outweigh the gains promised by mining transnational corporations (TNCs).”

The celebration of the World Environment Month this June, and the CBCP declaration of 2006 as the Year of Social Concerns, are powerful reminders that the story of Rapu-Rapu need not continue nor end as yet another reiteration of our dire pronouncements. The situation is not hopeless. Let us unite and work together “for the cause of truth and goodness and right” (Ps 45,5). Let us hold on to the struggle to put an end to destructive mining and unjust State and corporate practices in Rapu-Rapu, in other parts of our country, and in developing countries around the world.

Finally, let us pray unceasingly for our elected government leaders; for DENR officials; for the executives of Lafayette; for the victims of the mine spills; and for us all; that we may open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit. Then He shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Devotedly yours in the Lord,

Auxiliary Bishop of Legazpi

(Sgd.) Fr. John B. Mendoza
Ad-Interim Chancellor-Secretary
30 June 2006

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