Government regulatory agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should be as strict and tough on the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. in the wake of the landslide in its geothermal facility in Leyte where 14 workers died as it had been with mining companies.
Philex Mining, for example, got the full treatment when heavy rain from a typhoon led to a leak in one of the tailing ponds of its Padcal mine in Benguet last August. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Director Leo Jasareno of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau ordered the immediate closure of Philex’s Padcal mine and ordered Philex to pay over P1 billion in fines.
In a separate order, the Pollution Adjudication Board also directed Philex to pay another P92.8 million in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act.
There are other examples of how strict and tough government environment regulations agencies can be. When a landslide happened in a coal mining pit on Semirara Island, the Department of Energy, on orders of President Benigno Aquino III, ordered the immediate suspension of Semirara Coal and Mining Company.
Sagittarius Mines Inc., which has made the single biggest foreign direct investment of $5.9 billion in its copper-gold project in Tampacan, South Cotabato, had to wait almost three years to get an Environment Clearance Certificate from DENR.
We are, however, seeing something different in the case of EDC. Using the standards DENR and Mines and Geosciences Bureau as well as the Pollution Adjudication Board used on Philex, EDC should have been imposed over P1 billion in fines also.
In the case of the leak in one of the tailing ponds of Philex, the leak was proven to be non-toxic. In the case of EDC, there are reports that a hazardous chemical Boron was part of the leak and allegedly spilled into a nearby river that farmers use to irrigate their crops.
Can we hear from the DENR, the MGB and the PAB on whether they would impose fines on EDC? So far we have heard nothing from these agencies.
Still a big question mark is the action of EDC to bar government authorities. Volunteers and media from going to the scene of the landslide giving rise to speculation that EDC and its contractor First Balfour (also a Lopez company) wanted to “sanitize” the accident area before any investigation.
The exclusion of anybody not authorized by EDC was such that according to the report of a TV5 news team, it took three days before they were allowed to enter the EDC facility. Even then, they were not allowed to go to the site of the landslide itself.
The government regulatory agencies looking into the incident should investigate why 45 workers were deployed to build a rip-rap to protect the facility’s pipeline after two weeks of heavy rain on a site that falls within the “red zone” of the DENR’s geohazard map of Leyte, indicating that the area is a high-risk one, highly vulnerable to landslides.
Acting Leyte Gov. Mimiette Bagulaya said that they would conduct their own investigation on the EDC incident. They want to know what caused the landslide, pointing out that the area where it occurred was not prone to such incident.
But even more important is for Gov. Bagulaya to confirm if indeed there was a leak of the toxic chemical Boron from the busted pipeline and whether nearby rivers and water table have been affected.
This is urgent for the Leyte local government to know so that it would be able to warn residents of potential dangers.
A quick Google search of Boron says it’s an ingredient for insecticides.
Perhaps the governor together with the Department of Energy and the DENR can also verify if indeed EDC had initially barred a team from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council plus rescue volunteers from the local government and Philex,
But will all these investigations push through against EDC? It would seem that EDC/First Balfour had violations of the Labor Code that led to the death of so many workers.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz herself has been quoted in media as saying that the Department of Labor and Employment investigation team “found that the condition itself of the worksite posed imminent danger to the life and safety of workers.”
But the question remains because of the people behind EDC is whether government regulatory agencies will be tough on EDC as they were tough on Philex. Or will this be a simple case of “may tinitingnan, may tinititigan?”