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MANILA - Philex Mining Corp. on Thursday called on the government to reconsider fines it plans to impose on the company as a result of the pollution caused by an accidental discharge at the Padcal mine in Benguet.
Mike Toledo, Philex vice president for corporate communications, said the company will remedy the situation, adding that it should not be made to pay penalties after having operated the Padcal mine for 54 years without negligence.
“Our officials, engineers, and other personnel monitor our facilities on a daily basis. They do daily rounds of inspection of embankments, and indicators of seepage, erosion, or occurrence of sinkholes on the embankment, if any,” Toledo said.
Besides Philex personnel, a multi-partite monitoring team conducts quarterly inspections of Tailings Pond No. 3, from where the leak came, he said. The team is composed of representatives from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Environment Management Bureau, local government units and indigenous people in the area.
Toledo said Philex has yet to receive official information on the multimillion-peso fine that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced earlier.
“We are entitled to notice and hearing on whether we are liable to pay the penalties. There should be due process here,” he said.
Citing information provided by company metallurgists, external experts, and government regulators, Toledo said the non-toxic sediment from Padcal mine does not pose a danger to people and the environment since the chemical compounds used in milling operations were biodegradable.
“Responding quickly and decisively to any event is one of the principles of responsible mining being practiced by Philex,” Toledo said.
He said company officials had been on top of the situation and promptly reported the accident to the MGB, voluntarily stopping operations at the Padcal mine at about 12:00 midnight of August 1 and launching a full investigation at the mine site and its surrounding areas.
“We stopped our operations on our own volition, based on our investigation of the accident, and did not wait for any order from the government,” Toledo said.
He said a Philex employee heard unusual sounds at the dam and reported these immediately to the management. Philex president, Eulalio Austin Jr., then traveled from Manila to Padcal to take charge, and reported to the company's chairman, Manuel V. Pangilinan.
Toledo said Philex personnel did a thorough inspection of Padcal mine’s Tailings Pond No. 3 the following day, and informed the MGB in the Cordillera Autonomous Region as well as the EMB of the accident through a text message.
Philex then faxed an official communication to MGB and EMB less than two hours later, informing them of the voluntary suspension of operations at Padcal mine. At 3:00 p.m., Philex again faxed official communication to San Roque Corporation as a precautionary measure and, at 5:00 p.m. a command conference was held at Philex's head office.
“In that conference, Austin briefed the chairman and [Philex] management of the situation. Our chairman and CEO gave instructions for the implementation of various measures to protect the main dam and to hire local and foreign consultants to address the issue,” Toledo said.
On August 3, Philex issued a disclosure of the accident to the Philippine Stock Exchange and held a press conference, he said.
Toledo said Philex has been implementing its cleanup and rehabilitation drive on Balog Creek and at the point of convergence with Agno River, tapping employee-volunteers and communities living near Padcal mine.
Toledo said no reports of injury or fatality as a result of the accident had ensued, adding that Philex provided immediate assistance to—and will continue to assist—families whose livelihood had been affected by the accident.
“We have likewise vowed to bring affected households, fishermen, and farmers back to, if not better than, their situation before the accidental discharge of non-toxic sediment at Padcal Mine,” he said.
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