Rapu-Rapu mine rehab faces bleak future
By Rhaydz B. Barcia RAPU-RAPU, Albay --- Five years since a mining plant was decommissioned here, the complete rehabilitation of the mined out area still remains to be seen. A few patches of green, mainly cogon grasses hardly survived over the expanse of 100 hectares of rocky and acidic earth that was virtually excorticated by the intensive mining operations began by Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI) in this province’s mineral rich and only island town. The indigenous grass planted in the open pit of south and north embankment of the mining site is “an experiment” after the Rapu-Rapu mine was decommissioned in August 2013, according to Engr. Melvin Alonzo, president of Rapu-Rapu Mineral, Inc. (RRMI) and of Rapu-Rapu Processing, Inc, (RRPI). This reporter revisited the controversial Rapu-Rapu mining site 12 years after the reported two consecutive incidents of toxic spillages that took place in 2005. She was assisted by Engr. Guillermo Molina IV, MGB Bicol regional director, who has exclusive access to the mine site formerly run by Lafayette. To allow this reporter to visit the mined site freely, Molina coordinated with the management of Rapu-Rapu mine under a new company known as LG International (LGI) Korean Resources Corporation (KORES) which acquired the shares and debt of Lafayette Mining Limited on April 21, 2000. Subsequently, LG Kores invited Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC) to invest in the Rapu-Rapu Project. The firm invested $34 million or P1.72 billion (estimated as of January 2016), representing 30% ownership of the mining firm. Permission to visit the site did not come easy as key executives of the company’s Philippine office had to seek approval form their Korean big bosses. Rapu-Rapu Mayor Ronald Galicia said in an interview here that he had visited the tightly guarded mining site once a few years ago along with some police personnel to look into the reported series of blasting without properly coordinating with the local officials of the host town. Galicia, a former police officer before he was elected mayor of the gold-rich town said that the series of explosions caused fear and apprehension among the island’s residents. A year ago, Galicia also complained before the House of Representative against the mining firm that he alleged had ignored the local government unit in the so-called rehabilitation after then miners left the mining site. Alonzo, a Filipino concurrent chief executive officer of RRMI and RRPI who represents the mining firm on the ground, said the Korean bosses don’t want to let this reporter to visit the mine site until rehabilitation process has been successfully done. They, however, relented after MGB Director Molina interceded to allow this reported inside the abandoned mining site. Before the boat ride heading to Barangay Pagcolbon for a mine tour, Alonzo presented early in the morning at the pier of Barangay Poblacion in Rapu-Rapu the current status of rehabilitation work inside the mining site. Alonzo was set to catch up the 6:30 a.m. lone trip going to Legazpi to attend a court hearing. He told this reporter that about 2 to 3 hectares were planted with cogon grass using hydro seeding technique on the south side portion of the open pit to test if the wild grass would survive in the acidic and barren land. Trees earlier planted proved weaker to survive, it was found out. At least 100 hectares of the 180-hectare mine site are due for rehabilitation here. He explained that the south portion of the mine site is usually hit by southwest monsoon’s strong winds occurring in the months of June to October. The north side of open pit area, on the other hand, is often hit by amihan or northeast monsoon wind. About 600 square meters, or more than half of a hectare were planted with cogon grass, also as “an experiment” to see if they would also survive on this side of the mine site. The mine site according to Alonzo was abandoned by Benguet Corporation with acidic water without treatment in the past decades of mining operation. He said that mining in Rapu-Rapu existedas early as during the Spanish times and in 1935. The current rehabilitation work, according to Alonzo, is now about 27 to 28 percent complete with a budget of P300 million, until it was put on hold for wo years due to revision in the rehab plan that will transform the affected area from agro-forestry to eco-tourism site. But the eco-tourism rehab plan originally proposed during the incumbency of then DENR Secretary Ramon Paje was contested by members of the House of Representatives saying that it was not suitable for the island town which lies in a typhoon belt with 10 months of bad rainy weather. The rehab plan was reverted to agro-forestry but the new management of Rapu-Rapu mine is reportedly considering to revise such rehab plan, according to Alonzo. Shortly after the interview, this reporter took less than an hour boat ride over rough seas heading to Barangay Malobago, excited about finally landing in the mine rehab site. TO BE CONTINUED Editor’s Note: This reportage is produced by the author through the support of Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) 2018 Journalism Fellowship, in partnership with Philippine Press Institute.