By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Western Visayas has recommended the issuance of a cease and desist order (CDO) on the coal washing plant of the Semirara Mining Corp. for allegedly polluting Semirara Island's waters and mangroves.
In a memorandum issued by its Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to the Pollution and Adjudication Board endorsing the complaint of residents against the alleged pollution, the DENR said there was “prima facie evidence” against the company on the “disposal of coal material and tailings into the Suja Creek and to the sea.”
The memorandum dated February 15 and issued by DENR-EMB Regional Director Bienvenido Lipayon also recommended that the company be required to institute interim and long-term measures to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Residents of Sitio Bigo in Barangay Alegria, one of three villages of the island, had earlier filed a complaint alleging that coastal resources including mangroves have died or have been contaminated by wastes coming from the coal washing plant of SMC.
Semirara is one of the nine islands comprising Caluya town in Antique at the northern end of Panay Island. It is considered one of the richest fishing grounds in the area.
The residents alleged in their petition that silt has covered their coastline and mangroves as waste coming from the company's coal washing plant goes directly to the sea because the siltation pond has not been operational for a long time.
The company, which has been operating one of the biggest coal mines in Asia on the 5,500-hectare island, has repeatedly denied that the company's siltation pond has been non-functional.
It said that the siltation was caused by several typhoons that have affected the island which have triggered runoffs from old coal blending stockpiles.
The company also said that it has implemented corrective measures including the construction of a wall along the stockpile to prevent the erosion of coal towards the shoreline. It also said that its coal tailings pond has undergone maintenance and improvement to contain the tailings from the coal washing plant.
But the EMB said the discharged of coal materials from the coal blending stockpile and tailings from the coal washing plant violated Section 27 of the Clean Water Act (Republic Act 9275) which prohibits the discharging or depositing of materials into bodies of water that could cause pollution or obstruct the natural flow of water.
“The respondent (SMC) failed to provide the necessary barrier or catchment to prevent the coal blending stockpile from being washout by runoff to the receiving water body and likewise operating improperly the tailings pond serving the coal washing plant thereby discharging black silt materials to the water body,” Lipayon said in his memorandum.
The EMB has also recommended that DENR issue a fine of P45,000 against the SMC for violating three conditions of its environmental certificate of compliance (ECC).
The EMB said a study should be conducted to determine the extent of damage and destruction of seagrasses and aquatic resources. An inventory and rehabilitation of mangroves should also be conducted.
The Multi-Partite Monitoring Team (MMT), headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is set hold a meeting and field investigation in Semirara on April 16-18 to further investigate the allegations.
A separate and parallel investigation will also be conducted by environmental groups and scientists upon the request of the complainants.