This undated photo taken by the MGB MIMAROPA shows the perimeter fence that was constructed around the mercury-poisoned lake by the PQMI rehabilitation project.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in MIMAROPA is all set to kick off the next stage of its rehabilitation project in the abandoned mercury mine site of the Palawan Quicksilver Mines Incorporated (PQMI) in Barangay Sta. Lourdes.

This activity will be on February 22 at the project site in Sta. Lourdes and will be participated by all partner agencies and other stakeholders.

In a statement sent by its regional office on Wednesday, MGB MIMAROPA regional director Engr. Roland de Jesus said the next phase of the rehabilitation will focus on how to hurdle the toughest aspect of the project which is containing the mercury contamination in the area.

“Kaya nga we are touch-basing with other government agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology DOST), the Ecosystems Research and Development Board (ERDB), the academe (the University of the Philippines), the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMNC), on how to treat ‘yong mercury-contaminated water,” De Jesus said.

He said the MGB will focus on this because it is the hardest aspect of the rehabilitation effort in the abandoned mine site where cases of chronic mercury poisoning have already been recorded.

Earlier reports revealed that after collecting hair and blood samples from residents in March 2017, an estimated 39.53 percent of those tested in Sta Lourdes and 33.33 percent in nearby Baragay Tagburos were found to be suffering from mercury poisoning.

“Ito ang tututukan natin in the next phase, kasi we could easily implement the physical rehabilitation, but the more difficult aspect of the project is the conduct of research on how to treat the source of contamination. Ito ‘yong nakikitang dahilan kung bakit nagkakaroon ng traces of mercury ‘yong mga isda sa area,” De Jesus said.

The statement also said PQMI rehabilitation project manager Engr. Alvin Requimin reported that the work program for the 15-million project is “almost accomplished” based on the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the MGB MIMAROPA Region and the city government of Puerto Princesa.

Requimin said through the combined efforts of the concerned agencies, the initial components of the rehabilitation process for 2018 have been accomplished despite the limited budget.

These include the establishment of a hanging bridge, construction of a monitoring station with comfort room, initial landscaping and installation of path walk, and planting of metallophytes and various ornamental plants within the periphery of the pit lake.

He said they also welcome the recommendation of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Palawan to conduct further studies to determine the extent or scope of the proposed fishing ban to be implemented.

Requimin said the MGB is open to the suggestion to include Barangays San Jose and Bacungan as sampling points to determine if they have been affected by mercury contamination.

He shared that in the past, one of the major challenges in the implementation of the project was the relocation of residents, and the presence of remaining informal settlers which hamper the completion of the outer and inner fence surrounding the pit lake.

He emphasized the need to conduct an assessment or study to determine the possible sources of livelihood for the displaced families.

Requimin said further that another P10-million project fund is expected to be downloaded this year to support the ongoing rehabilitation of the abandoned mercury mine.

Meanwhile, the City Council in Puerto Princesa had earlier approved a P2-million counterpart funding for 2019 for the care and maintenance of the project site.

Palawan-based mining companies also pledged support to the initiative even after the expected turnover.

The proposed program of work for the P10-million project fund include earthworks (topsoil capping, benching for the slope stabilization, additional landscaping), electrical works (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 and mini-information center building.

Requimin said that the agency envisions the site to be converted into an ecotourism and research area amid earlier concerns raised about “forcibly” relocating the residents only to convert the area into a tourism sites

De Jesus cited this too, saying the area could be one of the possible new tourism destinations in Puerto Princesa.

“We would like to showcase na after the life of the mine, after the successful rehabilitation of this area, this could be transformed into another land use type. In this case, hopefully, as one of the ecotourism destinations in Puerto Princesa City. As for operating mines in the province, this has been successful in Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation in Bataraza, Palawan wherein some of the mined-out areas have been converted into agricultural lands,” De Jesus said.

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