MANILA, Philippines — Environmental groups have hailed a landmark court ruling to award damages to survivors of the country’s worst mining disaster after a two-decade long quest for justice.
Judge Emmanuel Recalde of Branch 38 of the Marinduque Regional Court of First Instance awarded 200,000 pesos in temperate damages and 100,000 pesos in moral damages to each of at least 30 plaintiffs in a case filed in 2001. A million additional pesos in exemplary damages was awarded to all plaintiffs.
In December 1993, portions of the Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Maguila-guila tailings dam collapsed, flooding the Mogpog River with toxic waste and inundating properties and revenue streams.
Three years after the Maguila-guila dam burst, a drainage tunnel in Marcopper’s Taipan pit burst, releasing 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings that choked the Boac River, which was later declared dangerous. It also submerged rivers and killed aquatic life.
“This is a victory for the plaintiffs who had waited two decades for justice as much as for the other plaintiffs who sadly died in the course of this case,” said Elizabeth Manggol of the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns.
Alyansa Tigil Mina said the court ruling sends an encouraging signal to communities in the Philippines that are affected by mineral resource extraction.
“It may have taken decades for the court to render a decision, but we are nonetheless hopeful as justice is finally being served for the victims of one of the country’s worst mining disasters,” he said.
Groups said the Marcopper disaster should serve as a warning as the government rolls back mining policies to help bring more money into the country after the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Marcopper disaster is a warning that we must heed with ongoing and planned large-scale projects in the country. The current mining law is problematic,” said attorney EM Taqueban, executive director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center. LRC acted as counsel to the plaintiffs.
For the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the plaintiffs’ slow march to justice shows how the 1995 mining law and related policies “lacked teeth and favored big business and their political sponsors”.
Alyansa Tigil Mina also said the decision highlights the importance of a new mining law that would place the environment and communities affected by mining above the interests of the mining industry.
“Currently, the country’s mining laws fail to prevent destructive mining. A new law must be put in place to ensure that mining disasters do not happen again,” he said.
Alternative minerals management bills, which seek to put in place more safeguards for the environment, Indigenous peoples and host communities, have long been pending in Congress.
The South Cotabato government recently lifted a ban on surface mining in the province despite opposition from environmentalists and local stakeholders. The development has removed the last regulatory hurdle for the stalled Tampakan copper and gold project.
In December 2021, the Duterte administration lifted the nationwide ban on surface mining in a bid to revitalize the industry. It also lifted a nine-year ban on new mining deals in April of that year.