The mining operations have long been stopped but the toxic wastes dumped by Marcopper and Placer Dome from 1975 to 1991 into Marinduque’s Calancan Bay, a major water and food source in the area, has claimed yet another life.
Ambeth Relloque, 18, was to be brought by ambulance to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila this month upon the recommendation of Dr. Teodolfo Rejano, Municipal Health Officer of Sta. Cruz, Marinduque (an island province 170 kms. south of Manila) because of suspected heavy metal poisoning. He never reached the hospital.
On Oct. 18, Relloque died in his hometown. His death is a tragic addition to the growing number of teenagers and children dying in the villages near Calancan Bay in Marinduque. Villagers reported that Relloque, before he died, had the symptoms similar to those suffered by other children who had died from poisoning caused by lead and other heavy metals from drinking water and eating fish and other seafood from the waters of Calancan.
“Wala naman silang ibang makakain doon kundi ang mga lamang dagat na kontaminado ng mine tailings sa Calancan,” (They didn’t have anything to eat there except the mine tailings-contaminated seafoods found in Calancan), said Jobeth Molato of the Marinduqueños for the Interest of the Nation and the Environment (MINE).
A few weeks before Relloque died, Molato said the latter simply stopped eating, adding that Relloque’s body may not have been able to further tolerate the poisons it was receiving.
The bay is where Marcopper and Placer Dome dumped close to 50 million tons of mine waste from 1975 to 1991.
In 1993, a Marcopper dam stopping mine waste at Mogpog River broke. This caused a flood that inundated Marinduque’s downstream villages.
The 1993 tragedy would be surpassed on March 24, 1996, when three to four cubic meters of mine tailings spilled from a drainage tunnel into the rivers of Boac and Makulapnit. All life forms in the rivers were destroyed as a result, and the communities in the vicinity were displaced.
Molato fears for the safety and health of the other members of the Relloque household, as well as some 700 other fishing families within the vicinity of Calancan. “Katulad ni Ambeth, masyado nang payat si Tatay Tido (the victim’s father) mula sa pagkain ng lason na nanggagaling sa Calancan,” (Like Ambeth, his father Tido has also already grown too emaciated from eating the poisons coming from Calancan), he added.
The Relloque household, Molato pointed out, is located just four kilometers from the shores of Calancan, and relies on farming and fishing for its food needs.
Relloque’s death brings to three the number of known fatalities believed to have died from the prolonged effects of heavy metals poisoning in Sta. Cruz. Last year, Roden Reynoso, 4, and Marvic Quindoza, 13, died from lead poisoning. But the number could be higher due to a number of unreported deaths in Marinduque, the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) stated.
The two were among 22 patients treated in 1999 at the PGH. Most of the patients treated earlier at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) may already have gone into a relapse since most of them are now back in the fishing villages near Calancan Bay, according to CEC executive director Frances Quimpo.
Quimpo lamented that almost three decades after, Placer Dome and Marcopper have not even owned up to their responsibility.
Quimpo said Relloque’s death is a wake-up call that should prod the government to immediately implement a comprehensive rehabilitation of the environment and the people in Marinduque. She said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should drop the idea of reopening mining in Marinduque since this is not what the people need.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) completed a comprehensive environmental and health study in Marinduque on July 25. Yet three months have passed and the government still has to draw up a plan to rehabilitate Marinduque.
The USGS study was commissioned through a P20 million fund released from the Office of the President. Some sectors, however, including Dr. Lyn Panganiban of the UP PGH Poisons Control and Information Services, which administered the treatment of Marinduque victims, believe that the money could have been better spent for the treatment of the contamination victims in Marinduque.
“What the people need is not a reopening of mining in Marinduque, which President Arroyo naively believes, but environmental justice,” Quimpo said.
“The first step towards environmental justice is the immediate implementation of a no non-sense clean-up and rehabilitation of the environment and justice for the people of Marinduque. This should be done alongside a strong prosecution of Placer Dome and Marcopper officials from the government to account for their criminal recklessness and irresponsibility in Marinduque,” she also said.
“And it should be now before everyone else dies in Marinduque,” Quimpo added.