President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

August 4, 2006

In many places, pollution from mining operations damages marine habitats and contaminates seafood consumed by local people, threatening our oceans and ultimately ourselves and our future.

In the Philippines, Bicol's immensely beautiful marine environment and its fragile sea creatures face a grave threat—toxic pollution and siltation caused by mining operations in Rapu Rapu Island in Albay.

The pristine waters of the Bicol region are acknowledged as the feeding grounds and migratory route of the whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. It is also home to five of the seven known marine turtles in the world, and its rich seagrass beds and mangroves, which make for a high marine biodiversity index, have turned the area into exceptionally rich fishing grounds for the region's fishermen.

The Philippine government allowed Australian firm Lafayette Philippines Inc to start the extraction of gold, silver, copper and zinc within Rapu Rapu in April 2005 despite strong opposition from local and national groups concerned that toxic mine tailings will be released into the sea. Clearly, the island is a dangerous place for a mine: not only is it situated along the country's typhoon belt, but also along a major fault, making it a high-risk area for mining catastrophes. During its few - months of operation, the mining company showed negligence and government agencies, such as the Environmental Management Bureau and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, failed to act on behalf of the people and environment. In October and November 2005, cyanide and other contaminants from the mine spilled into the sea and around the island, resulting in massive fish kills.

On May 19, 2006, a government-commissioned report recommended canceling the license of Lafayette in Rapu Rapu and a moratorium on all mining at Rapu Rapu. Greenpeace is running a petition to President Gloria Arroyo to follow the recommendations of the Rapu Rapu Factfinding Commission.

The Greenpeace petition calls for permanent closure of the mine and obligation or Lafayette to clean and rehabilitate the mine site so that further damage can be avoided.

Dear President Arroyo,

Rapu Rapu is an immensely beautiful island in the Province of Albay. The marine waters surrounding it, Albay Gulf to the South, Lagonoy Gulf to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the east, are exceptionally rich fishing grounds for fishermen from the Bicol Region. Dolphins, other sea mammals, sea turtles, egrets, and purple herons are frequently sighted in these waters.

Recently, the Philippines, along with 22 other countries and consistent with the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to draw up conservation and replenishment plans for marine turtle populations.(1)

Five out of the 7 marine turtles in the world are found in the Albay Gulf making it a high priority site for sea turtle conservation.(2)

In addition, the eastern seaboard of the Bicol Region, including Rapu Rapu, is an acknowledged migration path for whale sharks, an iconic species listed in Annex II of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). The whale shark is also found in the Red List of the International Union of the Conservation of Nature which means the species is vulnerable and may face extinction in the medium term.(3)

The pristine waters, the rich seagrass beds and mangroves make for a high biodiversity index. These feeding and nesting grounds, however, are under risk due to the operations of an open pit mine in Rapu Rapu Island. In April 2005 an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) was granted to the Australian owned Lafayette Mine which signaled the start of the extraction of gold, silver, copper and zinc within Rapu Rapu.

Local and national groups who have been opposing the mine are concerned that toxic mine tailings will be released into the sea, and along with it dissolved heavy metals. The island itself is situated along the country's typhoon belt, increasing the risk of a breach in the tailings dam, toxics pollution and other mining catastrophes. In October 2005, cyanide from the mine escaped into the marine environment around the island resulting in several episodes of massive fish kills.(4)

Initial ecological and health studies on the Rapu-Rapu mine, warned of heavy metal contamination, siltation and other acute and longterm impacts on the marine ecosystem. The Rapu Rapu Fact finding Commission has found, on hindsight that these warnings turned out to be true. Past experiences with mining disasters such as Marcopper in Marinduque has demonstrated the destructive and almost irreversible impacts of mine waste pollution on public health, people's livelihoods, and environment. Worse, the culprits for that disaster have yet to be made fully accountable for what has arguably become one of the most brazen examples of corporate environmental crimes worldwide.

The 30-day trial run period that the DENR gave to Lafayette has already resulted in some more fishkills. Any attempts to seek out the multisectoral monitoring team for the mine has been met with harassment and threats despite promises of transparency during the whole process.

The Commission has recommended to cancel the licenses of Lafayette in Rapu Rapu and to set a moratorium on all mining at Rapu Rapu Island. Greenpeace supports these recommendations, supports a permanent closure of the mine, and demands that Lafayette cleans up and rehabilitates the mine site so that further damage can be avoided.

Madame President, in solidarity with local communities, I appeal to you to immediately order the DENR to revoke the permit of Lafayette Philippines Inc. to operate their mines in Rapu Rapu Island. Allowing Lafayette to continue its operations, would virtually constitute a license for the company to pollute our seas, endanger pristine marine ecosystems and fishing grounds, contaminate the food chain, and endanger public health and the environment. Instead we call on Your government to support economic projects and initiatives which rely on the sustainable use and conservation of the rich marine resources in the region.

1 http://www.sunstar.com.ph/ static/ilo/2006/03/08/feat/ why.we.have.to.celebrate.a.year.for.the.marine. turtles.html
2 Testimony of Reynato Cruz, Project Leader, Pawikan Research and Conservation, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau during the public hearings of the Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission. 7 April 2006.
3 http://www.whalesharkproject.org/ whale_shark_iucn_red_list.asp
4 The DENR slapped Lafayette with a fine of Php 10.4 million for violating the Clean Water Act and Php 300,000.00 for violating the terms and conditions of its ECC resulting in fishkills. http://www.denr.gov.ph/article/view/3514/

With great respect,

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The Stop Lafayette From Polluting Our Seas petition to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was written by chuck and is in the category Environment at GoPetition.