Environment groups demand probe on Crew Minerals for Masara tragedy

Sep. 21, 2008

BY DAISY C. GONZALES
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY–Southern Mindanao environment groups demand a probe on the Canadian mining firm Crew Minerals for the September 6 landslide in Masara that killed 24 and displaced thousands.

Francis Morales, spokesperson of the environment group Panalipdan, said that along with the rescue missions, government should also investigate the Masara mines of Apex Mining Corp (Apex), which Crew Gold Corp, known here as Crew Minerals, took over in 2005 after it bought the Filipino company’s majority shares.

“Monsoon rains ordinarily happen but landslides are easily triggered in areas where man-made intervention or aggression occurs,” Morales said in a statement.

Panalipdan said Crew Minerals has been “extensively aggressive” in its mining operations since it bought majority shares from Apex Mining.

Reports from the mining firm’s website (www.apexmining.com) said Crew Minerals upgraded Apex’s processing plant, targeting to process 2,400 metric tons of ore daily, from its present daily full capacity of only 500 metric tons (MT). The plant, according to Apex, is geared towards hitting its target.

The company’s drilling operations have also reached 32 kilometers below ground. “Its operation is in high gear as it wants increased target production by the end of this year,” Panalipdan said.

“Portals and ramp systems are continuously being opened as the company gears for increased production,” Morales said, hinting that it might have triggered the collapse.

“Large-scale mining corporations should not be left off the hook too quickly,” Morales said.

The Davao city chapter of the anti-mining alliance Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alyansa) also echoed similar call. Alyansa wants the government to investigate mining companies “for possible environmental safeguards that may have been violated.”

Last week’s landslides that instantly hit Masara village, a mining enclave in Maco town, claimed 24 lives, countless injured, and at least 5,000 residents homeless, creating two ghost communities in Maco, Compostela Valley Province, some four-hour drive northeast from this city.

Crew Minerals targets 85,000 to 180,000 ounces of gold and 500,000 to 600,000 ounces of silver this year, according to reports gathered by Panalipdan. At the minimum, 85,000 ounces of gold (2,409.665 kilograms of gold) is as heavy as the combined 48 sacks of a 50-kilo sack of milled staple rice.

Crew Minerals’ mining operations cover the landslide-prone Masara village in Maco town in Southern Mindanao. It is considered “principal asset” of the Canadian firm in the country, as stated in the company website.

The Canadian company took over the Filipino-owned Apex Mining Company after buying the majority shares. Crew Minerals and its Philippine partner Mapula Creek Gold Corp now holds 72.8 percent of Apex that operated in Maco since the 70s.

Maco mines, formerly called Masara Mines, was purchased from Apex at 6.6 million dollars in 2005 and has since been one of the 24 priority mining projects being pushed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The government’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) approved the company’s MPSAs in 2005 and 2007 which cover 2,237 hectares previously occupied by Apex.

“Extensive drilling” operations early last year proved to be more positive compared to 2006, the company reported on its website.

According to www.apexmining.com, estimated gold on site as of last year was 1.462 million MT at 6.5 grams per MT. ”Inferred” mineral resources or positive estimates based on Maco mines geology samples were higher at 9.066 million MT at six grams per metric tons. In 2004, MGB has valued Apex mines at 33.2 million dollars.

The anti-mining group Alyansa said the mining operations and expansion of Crew Minerals in the Maco mines have already cost the company 36.58 million dollars in the period of three years since 2004.

As the Crew Minerals ore production goes full swing this year, Panalipdan’s Morales dismissed MGB’s pronouncements that immediately exonerated mining firms and their operations from the Masara tragedy.

Panalipdan, an umbrella of 25-member organizations in Southern Mindanao, said that killer landslides are most frequent in areas where there are mining operations. The group cited the mining operations in King-King in Pantukan and the infamous Diwalwal mines in Monkayo, all in Compostela Valley Province. Both are also listed as priority mining projects of the President.

“Civilian lives are at stake due to the relentless issuance of mining permits to foreign mining companies amidst the sinful leniency and negligence of environmental safeguards, and dogged obeisance to mining capitalists,” said Morales.

Panalipdan reiterates its call to scrap the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that gives license to foreign big mining companies to own, operate and mine the country’s resources “at the expense of patrimony and national sovereignty.” (Daisy C. Gonzales/davaotoday.com)

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