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MANILA - (UPDATED 4:32 p.m.) Philex Mining Corp. may be fined more than a billion pesos because of the pollution caused by leaks at a tailings pond of its Padcal mine in Benguet, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said on Tuesday.
In a media briefing, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the huge volume of sediment discharged by Tailings Pond No. 3 may merit more than just the initial assessment of a P325 million penalty.
“Based on our latest estimates, there’s a possibility to double or to triple the penalty, depending on the factors that we will use,” Paje said.
Citing the government's investigation, Paje said there more six incidents of accidental discharge, and not just two as reported earlier in the media.
“Since the first incident on August 1, the sediment discharge has more than doubled and has left a 30-hectare crater in the middle of the tailings pond,” he said.
Paje said the initial assessment of P325 million was based on the Mining Act of 1995, and excludes the P200,000 per day penalty imposed by the Clean Water Act of 2004.
“The amount will add up until Philex completes the clean up and rehabilitation process,” he said.
The 92-hectare tailings facility contains 163 million cubic meters of processed materials from the Padcal mine, and is located 30 kilometers upstream from where Agno River converges with Balog River.
The Padcal mine's drain tunnels discharge water into the Balog River, which runs for 2.5 kilometers before converging with the Agno River.
Philex chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said the company has yet to receive word from the DENR about the results of its assessment.
"We haven't received any formal notice from DENR about that so we'll just have to wait for that, because Philex will have to make its own independent assessment of the accident," he said.
"I think it must be stressed that the accident was the result of force majeure. We didn't want it to occur, and the immediate cause was really the very unusual heavy volume of rainfall in Central-Northern Luzon. So it's a force majeure situation for Philex," he added. Pangilinan also chairs TV5, for which InterAksyon.com is the online news portal.
Last month, Philex suspended operations at Padcal following the accidental discharge of water and sediment from Tailings Pond No. 3 at the height of torrential rains.
The government has since ordered a halt to Philex's mining operations until such time the company has cleaned up and rehabilitated the polluted area.
Paje said Philex has completed drilling a vertical hole in the main dam, where quick-setting cement will be poured to completely seal the tunnel and stop the discharge from the tailings pond.
“They are just waiting for the rains to stop before they can push through pouring the cement,” he said.
Philex has organized volunteers, including from the surrounding communities, to help in the cleanup, and has tapped the services of three Australian companies for the rehabilitation of the tailings pond.
With a report from Ben Arnold O. De Vera
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