Delayed justice for Marinduque mining disaster

BOAC, Marinduque — In a rare display of solidarity and volunteerism, thousands of Marinduqueños from all walks of life, led by the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns, gathered together on March 24 to clean-up both embankments of the 26-kilometer Boac River to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the infamous environmental disaster which caused the death of the said river in 1996. This is in response to the Pastoral Letter issued by Marinduque’s Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista, an Executive Order circulated by Governor Carmencita O. Reyes and a Resolution adopted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Evangelista emphasized in his letter to the faithful read in all the Sunday masses on March 18 that: “It is high time for the entire Marinduque community to work together in reclaiming the integrity of our creation as part of our responsibility before God to enrich the beauty and bounty
of our remaining natural resources. In this sense, our collective dignity as Marinduqueños will wipe out the infamy which the Boac River disaster of 1996 brought to our island-paradise. However, the local church and the local governments have the common tasks to continuously seek
justice for our people and for our environment.”

Delayed Justice

Marinduqueños have been seeking justice from the various Courts in the country and abroad to determine the liabilities of Marcopoper Mining Corporation and Placer Dome, Incorporated (bought by Barrick Gold in 2006) over the disasters their 30-year mining operations have caused the people and environment in Marinduque island. These include the criminal cases filed separately by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources against John Eric Loney, an Australian who was the President and CEO of Marcopper, Steven Paul Reid, also an Australian national and Resident Manager of Marcopper Tapian Office, and Pedro Hernandez, a Filipino who served as Senior Manager for Maintenance.

They were the officials of the mining company during the collapse of one of the dredge tunnels of Marcopper’s Tapian Pit on March 24, 1996 that caused the biologic death of Boac River, the biggest and longest waterway in Marinduque. These officials were charged for violation of the
Philippine Water Code, the Anti-Pollution Law, the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, and the Revised Penal Code docketed in the Municipal Trial Court in this town as Criminal Cases Nos. 96-44 to 95-55 (People of the Philippines v. John Eric Loney, Steven Paul Reid and Pedro Hernandez). The said criminal cases have been dragging for eleven years already.

MACEC Executive Secretary Myke Magalang explained that “the delay in the administration of justice for the victims of environmental disaster in Marinduque and the unconscionable plunder of our environment are reflections of inefficiency in the bureaucracy of the country, including the judicial branch.”

Court records reveal that after the filing of the cases in April 11, 1996, the accused Marcopper officials filed a Motion to Quash before the Boac MTC. After the exchange of various pleadings, the complaints for violation of the Philippine Water Code and the Anti-Pollution Law were
quashed/dismissed by the lower court but the accused mining company officials were arraigned for the remaining cases on May 28, 1997.

The prosecution appealed the ruling at the Regional Trial Court in Marinduque while the accused sought the intervention of the same court praying for the quashing also of the cases for violation of the Philippine Mining Act. On March 20, 1998, the RTC reversed and set aside the
ruling of the lower court and reinstated all the criminal cases filed against the accused. This ruling was appealed by the accused in the Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court.

Eight years after, the Supreme Court finally upheld the RTC ruling on February 10, 2006 and ordered the reinstatement of all criminal cases, which in effect, remanded the same to the court of origin. The only progress of the cases was on November 22, 2006 when the Provincial Prosecutor filed a manifestation and motion to set cases for hearing and only after MACEC presented a computer downloaded copy of the Supreme Court decision.

Magalang assailed “the extreme inefficiency of the justice system because it is unimaginable why until now the prosecution and even the Municipal Trial Court of Boac were not officially furnished with copies of the Supreme Court Decision.”

The Prosecution’s manifestation informed the Municipal Trial Court that “it is in possession of what appears to be a computer generated copy of the decision in G.R. No. 152644” and opined that it would perhaps suffice in “paving the way for the resumption of the hearing.”

Magalang further emphatically said that such “is indeed a grave insult to the already disillusioned and disheartened people of Marinduque who are continuously suffering and threatened to die one by one from heavy metal poisoning. That is why we are calling the attention of the Department of Justice to direct the panel of prosecutors to prioritize this case of the Filipino people against the foreign nationals and officers of the multinational mining company which plundered our national patrimony. We also call on the Supreme Court to officially transmit copy of its February 2006 Decision in order for the Municipal Trial Court of Boac to expedite the hearing of the cases.”

Unpaid local taxes

Another important concern that MACEC strongly pursues is to find ways and means to compel Marcopper Mining Corporation and Placer Dome, Inc to pay their unpaid real property taxes to the province of Marinduque and the municipalities of Boac, Mogpog, Sta. Cruz and Torrijos which totaled PhP1,048,624,496.80 as of the second quarter of 2006.

“This is an extreme insensitivity of a company which amassed billions of dollars in profit and which claims to be a good corporate citizen of the country but neglecting its primary duty to pay legitimate taxes to the government. This is a period when poor Filipinos are trooping the local
treasury offices in the country to pay their basic real property taxes. But the mining company which caused destruction to the people’s health and the island’s environment preferred to go to Court to sue the provincial government of Marinduque to question the tax assessment schedule imposed by the local government,” explained Magalang.

According to the records of the Provincial Treasurer of Marinduque officially furnished to MACEC, Marcopper has standing tax debts of PhP1,013,101,529 .51 in the municipality of Sta. Cruz for the period 1980 to 2006Q2; PhP11,164,686.80 in the municipality of Torrijos for the period 1983-1996Q2; PhP1,194,977.89 in the municipality of Mogpog for the period 1999 to 2006Q2; and, PhP23,163,602.60 in the municipality of Boac for the period 1985 to 2006Q2.

On May 3, 2006, the Provincial Government has already sought the intervention of DENR’s Legal Department. Governor Carmencita Reyes in an official communication enlisted the agency’s legal assistance “to enable the Province of Marinduque to collect the outstanding real property taxes from Marcopper amounting to more than P600 million . . . we have suffered enough from the corporate negligence and recklessness of this mining giant. They have exploited our resources but left us poor and desolate. Our plea from the company to restore, restitute and rehabilitate the damage areas fell on deaf ears.”

Magalang argued that “the huge amount of outstanding taxes of Marcopper should have been used by Marinduque for the medical needs of the victims of the mining disasters, providing the basic infrastructure and books for the various schools in the province, provision of alternative livelihood opportunities for the displaced mine workers, and other projects and programs for the sustainable development of the province.”

He added that “now is the time for Marinduqueños to unite and make these issues as primary concerns in the coming elections to choose the best candidates for the various local positions. We have to scrutinize more deeply the promises and political agenda of the candidates for local positions in Marinduque. This is an imperative to every Marinduqueño if only to champion our cause of obtaining justice for our people and the environment.”

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