Villagers excited, anxious as mining firm opens plant in Surigao

CLAVER, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/03 September) – Residents of Barangay Taganito and three adjacent villages in this town have greeted with mixed reactions the start tomorrow of operations of the Taganito High Pressured Acid Leach (THPAL).

Some showed excitement over the opening of a major mining investment, but others feared it would bring health problems and other environmental hazards.

Residents of barangays Taganito, Hayanggabon, Cabugo and Urbiztondo recalled that THPAL’s hydrometallurgical processing plant in Taganito emitted a foul odor when it was commissioned on the night of July 4 this year. They said the odor stayed around until the following day.

“That incident caused people to panic and the smell truly sucks, it’s like the [smell of] septic tanks,” said Taganito Barangay Chair Ruben D. Parpan.

Parpan told MindaNews the people really feared the foul odor might kill them.

“Good thing no one was complaining or landed in the hospital during that incident,” he said.

He said THPAL officials explained to him and some councilors the company was at fault for using a wrong mixture of chemicals at the time.

“The foul odor hurt my nose, I felt dizzy. I’d rather have tear gas than that one because it prolongs your suffering,” said Andy Elemanco of Taganito.

Bebe Tesado, a mother of eight, said they could not sleep that night because of the obnoxious odor. She said she felt worried listening to her children cry.

“Since I was young I have never smelled something like that one and I fear that it would happen again or something worse would happen,” she added.

Parpan said Takanori Fujimora, president of Taganito HPAL Nickel Corporation had called from Japan to ask for an apology.

“He was really asking for apology and assured that incidents like that would never happen again,” he said.

Parpan added Fujimora told him the smell was not dangerous.

Claver Mayor Eddie P. Gokiangkee also said the incident has caused anxiety on the townsfolk.

But he said no one was contemplating to file charges against the mining firm for the incident.

MindaNews called THPAL consultant Boy Alloy, but he declined to give details on the incident saying he just retired as the administrative officer of the company.

A call and text messages to Rene Gonzales, mining environment division chief of the Mines and Geoscience Bureau-Region 13 have remained unanswered.

In his letter to Parpan, Fujimora said THPAL US$1.6 billion for the project in Claver which is expected to produce 30,000 metric tons of nickel sulfide and 2600 MT cobalt sulfide each year.

The two chemicals will be refined in Japan.

Fujimora said their “state-of-the-art equipment” is expected to generate US$378 million (about P15 billion) annually and employ at least 2000 workers.

“It is expected to raise taxes for the national government and local government, provide social development expenses under the government’s Social Management Program to the host and surrounding communities at estimated P144 million pesos annually and stimulate local businesses,” Fujimora’s letter said.

Fujimora said THPAL has a lifespan of 30 years. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)