Housing offered for families displaced by mercury contamination

Pit lake in Sta. Lourdes, Puerto Princesa which was formed from the open pits left by PQMI
File photo: PQMI has left an almost 3-hectare 30-meter deep pit which later became a lake Photo: K. Santos

The city government has offered relocation for 28 families residing near the mercury-contaminated pit lake in Barangay Sta. Lourdes.

City Housing chief, Engr. Eduardo Driz, said the relocation area is located at the Barangay Mangingisda Socialized Housing Project site. It comes in two modes: house and lot for families living 20 meters from the danger zone, and lot for families living 40 meters from the danger zone.

The lot will be given for free, while the house (24-square meter floor area) and lot (around 100 sqm), a National Housing Authority project, costs P100,000 per unit and is payable for 25 years (P300 monthly amortization).

As of August, Driz said six families have availed for each mode.

“We wrote a letter last August informing affected families to participate in the draw lots, and they were the ones who went to our office,” Driz said.

He said the remaining ones refused to participate in the draw lots, insisting their respective land properties are titled.

“But we are still accommodating families who want to avail a relocation slot,” he told Palawan News.

Of the 12 families who got a slot, he said more or less four families have already self-demolished their houses and transferred to Bgy. Mangingisda.

“The other ones are still waiting for the financial assistance from the city government,” he said.

According to Melvin Abogador, administrative officer of the City Social Welfare and Development, 13 families have so far applied for a financial aid of P10,000 for the reconstruction of their houses.

“We only need a barangay certification from them,” Abogador said. He added they have forwarded the initial list to the city mayor’s office for approval.

The continuing presence of occupants within the buffer zone has since hampered the rehabilitation of open pit mercury mining area of the defunct Palawan Quicksilver Mine, Incorporated (PQMI).

“Supposedly, the rehab should only take three years to finish, but the presence of informal settlers has caused a delay,” said Engr. Roland De Jesus, regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB).

De Jesus said the P15-million rehab project, which includes fencing of the pit lake and turning it into an ecotourism area, comes after the DENR-MGB signed a memorandum of agreement with the city government in 2015.

“With the total fencing of the area, we can now totally isolate the area. We can bar people from entering the prohibited area and do the fishing activity which we are preventing,” De Jesus told Palawan News.

A government report released in May revealed that the residents of Bgy. Sta Lourdes and Tagburos continue to be at risk as they are exposed to mercury from the PQMI mine tailings, and continue to consume tilapia and other freshwater fish from the lake, as well as seafood caught near the Honda Bay wharf.

According to the regional MGB director, they need to fence the 1.2 kilometer-circumference mercury-contaminated lake. About 200 meters is yet to be installed with fence since it traverses the buffer zone occupied by the settlers.

Once the fencing is done, De Jesus said they will begin stabilizing the slopes and landscaping the area for aesthetic purposes.

“We have already identified metal-absorbing plants and trees that could be planted in the area,” he said.

As of now, around 80 residents who have tested positive for mercury have yet to undergo medication by the regional Department of Health, according to Bgy Sta. Lourdes Councilor Jerry Valeña.

“It seems they’ve been left hanging,” Valeña told Palawan News.

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