The unveiling of the Palawan Quicksilver Mines, Inc. (PQMI) Rehabilitation Project Marker in Brgy. Sta. Lourdes, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, on February 22, 2019.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said the shared commitment of the public, the private sector, and the surrounding communities of Barangay Sta. Lourdes has a critical role to play in the second stage of the rehabilitation of the abandoned Palawan Quicksilver Mines Incorporated (PQMI) mercury mine site.

MGB MIMAROPA regional director Roland de Jesus said this following the successful kickoff ceremony on February 22 of the next phase in the rehabilitation of the deserted mercury mine site.

In a recent statement sent to Palawan News, De Jesus said the next phase will center on the treatment of the pit lake and the continuous physical rehabilitation of the area “towards the fulfillment of the project’s ultimate goal – to convert the abandoned mine into one of the ecotourism and research destinations in the city.”

He reiterated that the Bureau has been closely coordinating with various agencies and institutions on how to treat the mercury contamination issue which he describes as the “toughest aspect” to hurdle.

Earlier, De Jesus pronounced the MGB’s partnership with research teams from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Ecosystems Research and Development Board (ERDB), the University of the Philippines (UP), and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) to address this major concern.

“Meron namang life after the mine. Mining is just a temporary land use. Hopefully, maging isang ehemplo sa ating bansa na ang isang mining project ay puwede palang maging rehabilitated at maging kapaki-pakinabang later on,” he said.

The DENR and MGB recently held a workshop with JOGMEC regarding mine pollution control measures and the current situation of abandoned or inactive mines in the country.

The undertaking also highlighted the methodology and expected outputs of the MGB-ERDB project, “Rehabilitation Strategies for the Control and Management of Mercury Contamination in Sta. Lourdes, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan,” which will be implemented through the Bureau’s mine rehabilitation program.

On turning the mine site into an ecotourism destination, the MGB harked back on Puerto Princesa mayor Lucilo Bayron’s speech during the kickoff ceremony which stated the city government’s plan to plant one million Balayong trees around the project area in Sta. Lourdes.

In his speech during the kickoff event, Bayron said the city government has already procured tree spade trucks for the earth-balling of Balayong trees along the highway which will be affected by the ongoing road widening project.

“Nai-bid na ‘yong spade trucks, it will take four months daw dahil imported ‘yong mechanism na yan. Kapag ‘yan ay operational na, isa ito sa mga tataniman natin ng malalaki nating Balayong trees na nakikita sa national highway,” he said.

The MGB and the City Engineering Office are currently finalizing the proposed program of work for the P10-million project fund which is expected to be downloaded this year.

Among the proposed activities for the next phase are earthworks (topsoil capping, benching for the slope stabilization, additional landscaping); perimeter lightings with underground wiring; additional construction of three-meter wide concrete pathway and fence to contain the 60m-wide abandoned national road; installation of water system; repainting of existing inner and outer fence; and construction of driveway parking, guard house, and mini-information center building.

Meanwhile, PQMI rehab project manager Engr. Alvin Requimin said the local government is yet to decide on the feasibility of the proposed ERDB research which aims to introduce phytoremediation measures within the buffer zone.

The Bureau would also like to focus on encouraging the local residents to believe in the potential of the project, and actively participate in the process through the planting of trees and observing proper waste disposal.

“Habang ginagawa ‘yung research, there will be the introduction of metallophytes and hyperaccumulators or plants capable of growing in areas with very high concentration of heavy metals, within the project area as physical rehabilitation activity and measures,” Requimin said.

Requimin said there are also plans to allocate funding to support research activities in the area, including the proposed encapsulation or reclamation activity in coastal areas of Sta. Lourdes, particularly the surroundings of the jetty in Honda Bay.

“The fund is intended to fulfill the objective na maging ecotourism area ang PQMI. For the research part, the ERDB and other institutions are starting their studies for a scientific approach to remediate the mercury-laden area,” Engr. Requimin said.

In addition, the City Council approved a P2-million counterpart funding for 2019 for the care and maintenance of the project site, on top of the support pledged by Palawan-based mining companies to this initiative.

As part of the fulfillment to the initial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), Requimin said that the city government requested the assistance of the MGB to conduct an assessment on the potential area for the city’s waste to energy program in Barangay Bahile.

This is in accordance with their responsibility to develop a waste management system considering the proximity of the project site to the sanitary landfill.

From 1954 to 1976, PQMI operated at its mine site in Sta. Lourdes, producing about 2,900 tons of mercury and 2,000,000 tons of mine-waste calcines (retorted ore).

During the time of its operations, there were no existing policies governing the strict implementation of progressive and final mine rehabilitation programs. Hence, PQMI was left in its deteriorated state upon cessation of the operations due to low metal prices followed by strict regulations on heavy metals.

Two decades later, mercury contamination and poisoning were reported and linked to the mine’s previous operations.

In 2013, PQMI has been identified as a priority site for rehabilitation during the assessment commissioned by MGB. Consequently, the MGB MIMAROPA Region and the CGPP entered into a MOA in December 2014 with the objective to prevent the further deterioration of the PQMI abandoned mine site by addressing the physical and environmental threats in the area, and likewise promote the sustainable utilization of the resource for socio-economic and environmental significance.

The first phase of the rehabilitation with initial PhP15-million funding from MGB centered on the isolation of the area with the construction of outer and inner fences within the identified 20-40 meters buffer zone/easement of the pit lake. Vegetation also followed by introducing carabao grass, bamboo, and other ornamental plants in preparation of the area as an ecotourism site.

On top of these efforts are the continuous aquatic and terrestrial biota sampling, sediment sampling, research on the health effects of mercury, and conduct of series of information drive and dialogues in coordination with partner agencies and mining companies operating in the province.