Boac, Marinduque – March 24 is Black Friday in this part of the country. Thousands of Marinduqueños wearing black shirts, sporting black armbands and carrying black banderitas flocked to the capital town through a circumferential caravan coming from all the municipalities of the island.
It is a day of mourning, unity and prayer in the entire province to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the infamous Boac River Mining Disaster of 1996 that wreaked havoc to their environment and livelihood. This year also marks the 30th Anniversary of the dumping of mine wastes in Calancan Bay in Sta. Cruz and the 13th year of the collapse of Maguila-guila Siltation Dam in Mogpog.
Bells tolled in every Parish as early as 5AM, followed by solemn mass celebrations as people mourn for all the losses the entire province incurred due to tragedies resulting from 30 years of irresponsible mining. People lament that despite these disasters –- which generally affected the social, economic, environmental and health spheres of the individual victims and the entire province -– the national government through the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) responded by including the San Antonio Copper Project in the list of 23 mining priority areas in the country.
As stated in the Marinduque Declaration, the inclusion shows the national government’s insensitivity and callous disregard of the plight by those affected and those who continue to suffer as a result of the disasters caused by large-scale mining. “Today, we are one in prayers and action as we commemorate these tragic events to strengthen Marinduqueños’ resolve in our collective struggle to seek justice for the people and the environment,” Bishop Rey Evangelista through Vicar General Msgr. Ramon Magdurulang said.
For Marinduque Congressman Edmund O. Reyes, Jr., the solidarity and collective action demonstrated today by Marinduqueños has been inspiring. “Talagang walang imposible kung nagkakaisa tayo at kasama ang Panginoon. Thanks to our united efforts and prayers, there is a very strong chance we may finally obtain justice our people deserve. Our case is rock solid owing to world-class objective evidence from some of the best international environmental, engineering and health experts. We have the United States Geological Survey (USGS) studies worked on together with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Health Poisons Control Center, Oxfam Australia, testimonies from Congressional Hearings, and various studies by the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo,” Reyes added.
The people of Marinduque, through the Provincial Government, has filed a suit against Placer Dome, Inc. (PDI) in Nevada, U.S.A. on October 24, 2005 for environmental remediation and natural resource damage in the hope of obtaining just compensation favorable to the Marinduqueño people and for the next generations of Filipinos. PDI is the giant Canadian mining company that managed and controlled Marcopper Mining Company (MMC). PDI operated the mine until 1997 when it divested its shares in Marcopper. Attys. Walter Scott, David Ammons and Reda Dennis, three members from a powerhouse team of many other American lawyers representing the Province, were one with the people in the commemoration, as they prepare to defend the case against countermoves filed by Place Dome, Inc.
“Placer Dome has filed a Motion to Dismiss last March 1, 2006 after several requested extensions,” said Scott. The moves to dismiss by Placer Dome were on the basis of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. “There were no surprises as we have anticipated these grounds,” Scott added.
According to Scott, Placer Dome first makes a simplistic assertion that the Court lacks general jurisdiction over Placer Dome, and that the Province –- and every other plaintiff -– is not allowed to sue Placer Dome in Nevada because it supposedly does not conduct any business there despite the enormous profits it reaps from mining operations in Nevada. Placer’s particular jurisdictional challenge is premised on a sworn statement of Mark Ruus, Placer Dome’s Vice President of Taxation, which has already been contested as false and misleading by one of Placer Dome’s own former executives.
“Placer Dome’s position is disproved by the facts, and the Province has responded to Placer Dome’s jurisdictional challenge with a more than one foot-thick motion of its own highlighting Placer Dome’s pervasive contacts in Nevada while also demanding jurisdictional discovery to further probe Placer Dome’s contentions,” Scott said.
Placer Dome’s forum non conveniens argument contends that, instead of Nevada, the only appropriate or convenient forum for the case is Canada -– and not the Philippines. Under the applicable tests and considerations, there is nothing to argue in favor of Canada over Nevada other than that some, but not even all, of Placer Dome’s personnel reside in Canada; however, that fact is not of any real consequence to the determination at hand, according to Scott. Placer Dome does not even consider the Philippines as an alternative forum. “It is ironic that Placer Dome uses forum non conveniens to defend against suits brought in Canada while in this case, it argues in favor of Canada,” he said.
“Of course Placer Dome would want the case to be in Canada. It’s home court advantage. What we want is a neutral hearing so that a fair decision can be reached by the court. I am hopeful that we can get justice from the U.S. Federal Court of Nevada,” said Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes.
In a statement issued by the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC), in the 30 years of hosting large-scale mining projects, Marinduque remains one of the only seven fourth-class provinces in the country, ranked as 14th poorest province in the Philippines and as having the 3rd most denuded forests, and has a high poverty incidence of 71.9%. According to MACEC Executive Secretary Myke R. Magalang, this should be a reminder to the national government and a wake up call to other provinces lest they fall into the trap of “economic miracles” promised by mining projects especially with the major thrust of the current administration to revitalize mining in the country.
“The overwhelming support of the people of Marinduque to heed the call for a day of mourning, unity and prayer demonstrates that we are in solidarity in our campaign for a mining-free province,” Magalang said.
Atty. Walter Scott 0918-2770026
Bishop Rey Evangelista 042-332-21788
Cong. Edmund O. Reyes 02-9316427
Governor Carmencita O. Reyes 042-332-1002
MACEC Exec. Sec. Myke R.Magalang 042-332-2713