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Marcopper Placer Dome Mining Disaster, Marinduque Island, Philippines


The first operations for the Marcopper mine date back to 1956, when the company Placer Dome Limited became active in the area by undertaking extensive geological mapping and drilling. Mining operations started in 1969 through the exploration of the Mt. Tapian ore deposit, containing copper concentrate, as well as gold and silver. At that time, the mine was co-owned by Placer Dome Inc. (39,9%) and its partner, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos [1;2].

Between 1975 and 1991, it was estimated that more than 200 million tons of mine tailings were discharged into Calancan Bay, which covers fishing grounds of 8,000ha [2]. Complaints over leukaemia, kidney problems and other diseases among children and adults increased since 1981. First diagnosed as “common diseases”, in 1996/7, tests showed high levels of heavy metals in the blood of patients [1;3]. Moreover, local residents were protesting since 1975, as the waste dumping into the water bodies heavily affected food security of 12 fishing villages (around 15,000 persons) [2;4]. In 1988, the Pollution Adjudication Board ordered Marcopper to stop waste dumping into the Calancan bay. However, Marcopper convinced the government that dumping, having a “negligible impact”, was indispensable for the operation, and was allowed to continue if paying a remedial measure of P30,000 per day [1]. When the Tapian reserve was depleted in 1990, Marcopper continued mining in the San Antonio copper reserve, 3km north of Tapian [1]. The old Tapian pit was then used as a waste discharge disposal – an unconventional method, for which no environmental impact study was conducted [1;2].

The first disaster happened in 1993, when the Marcopper silt dam in the Maguilaguila creek collapsed and flooded nearby villages and the Mogpog River, which has long suffered from recurring floods due to siltation caused by the collapse. The colors of the river, ending in the Tablas Straight, have ranged from peach to brown to gruesome red and toxic green or violet. Flooding was so severe that several houses were swept away [1; 2]. Livestock, crops and farmland was destroyed, the river was heavily polluted and two children were drowned [1]. The second and final disaster occurred on March 24, 1996, when a massive tailing spill from the Tapian pit escaped through the badly sealed drainage tunnel and no less than 2 million tons of tailings subsequently flooded the Makulapnit and Boac river [1;2]. 700 families (3000-4000 people) from 5 villages were most directly affected and the surrounding terrestrial and aquatic environment was heavily contaminated [1]. A UN mission team visiting the area declared the situation an environmental disaster, due to the vast degradation of the rivers. It further criticized the lack of any environmental impact studies and measures, in spite of large evidence of mining spills during the foregoing years [2]. After the spill, thousands of residents needed to be evacuated and suffered isolation, hunger and diseases [1]. Many children, as well as other residents, were found to have toxic blood levels of lead and cyanide; of which some died later on from the consequences of the diseases and lead intoxication [1;3].

The year after this massive disaster, Placer Dome divested from Marcopper and left the Philippines, in absence of proper compensation of damages, or clean-up of the area [1;2;5;6]. But decades after the disaster, the region and Calancan Bay continues to be heavily silted by the mining spills and fish and agriculture continues to be contaminated with toxic metals . Fish catch was reported to have fallen from 23kg to 2kg per day, heavily affecting food security [1]. In 2001, there were still more than 800,000 m3 of tailings in the River, while the drainage tunnels were still at risk of further leaking [2]. Calancay Victims, supported by the group Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN) filed a suit for damages at the regional court [1] and in 2005, the provincial board of Marinduque filed a case in Nevada against the mining giant, who was acquired in 2006 by Barrick Gold Corporation, claiming compensation for damages, as well as environmental clean-up efforts and funds [5]. Between 2011 and 2014 mediation and settlement processes occurred, however no acceptable outcome was achieved.

As of early 2015, the case might be translated to Canada, as Barrick Gold is headquartered in Toronto. Meanwhile, the province of Marinduque aims to become a mining-free zone under national law [6]. However, the legacy of social and environmental damages will continue for decades, entailing irreversible losses, which cannot be compensated in monetary terms.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Marcopper Placer Dome Mining Disaster, Marinduque Island, Philippines
State or province:Marinduque province
Location of conflict:Santa Cruz
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Copper

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Marcopper Mining Corporation, held by Placer Development Ltd. (former Placer Dome), operated two mines on Marinduque Philippines; the Mt. Tapian Pit and the San Antonio Mine. The two mines were under operation from 1969 – 1996. [2].

Related mining tenements of Marcopper Mining Corporation in Santa Cruz covered 4,668.32ha (AMA-IVB-127 AMND); 27ha (LLA-V-271); 45ha (LLC-V-269) and 18ha (LLC-V-270) [8], totaling 4758.32ha.

In 1964, the Marcopper Mining Corporation was established and in 1969, Marcopper started its mining operations. Placer Dome owned 39.9% of shares of Marcopper, which was the legal limit of foreign involvement in Philippine companies. Until 1994, Placer Dome was the only company involved in the Marcopper mines; at least 50% of the remaining shares were held by Placer Dome’s secret partner, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. After he was overthrown in 1986, Marco’s shares were held by the subsequent Philippines governments (Aquino and Ramos) until they were privatized in 1994 [2].

For the mining operations, loans were initially secured from a consortium of American banks [2]. Later on, also the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided a loan amounting to 40 million USD [4]. Other creditors have been Philippine Solidbank and RCBC [7], among others.

From 1969 to 1990, a total of 779.6 million kg of copper, 23 million grams of gold, and 127.9 million grams of silver were produced [3].

After the disaster, Placer Dome Technical Services Ltd., subsidiary of Placer Dome Inc, was set up to clean up the area [b]. Placer Dome divested from Marcopper in 1997 via the involvement of Cayman Island MR Holdings Company, stating that it would continue to take responsibility for the cleanup and compensations. However, in 2001 and agreement was made, according to which responsibilities were left with Marcopper, while Placer Dome disappeared from the Philippines [2].

Project area:4758.32
Level of Investment:>40,000,000 USD (=secured loan for mining development)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:15,000 directly affected, much more indirectly affected
Start of the conflict:1969
Company names or state enterprises:Marcopper Mining Corporation from Philippines - mining
Placer Dome Inc. from Canada - mining
Barrick Gold Corporation from Canada
Placer Dome Technical Services Limited (PDTSL) from Canada - mining
MR Holdings from Cayman Islands
Relevant government actors:Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
Provincial Government of Marinduque
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Solidbank Corporation from Philippines - finance, banking
Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) (RCBC) from Philippines - banking, finance
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC); Calancan Bay Fisherfolks Federation; Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN); Provincial Government of Marinduque; Kalikasan; Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM); Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines; Protestant National Council of Churches; Calancan Bay Villagers Support Coalition (CBVSC); Mining Watch, and others

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsblood intoxication by heavy metals and other substances (lead, cyanide) and subsequent deaths.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
There have been settlement processes between the company and the provincial government, but no acceptable outcome was achieved. The court decided that the provincial government may re-file the case in Canada.
Development of alternatives:The provincial government of Marinduque has filed a lawsuit against the company, demanding proper compensation for the vast damages as well as clean-up activities and a clean up fund. The provincial government of Marinduque further pursues a Moratoria on Mining on the Island in order to become a mining-free zone.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The damages are vast and irreversible. There hasn't been proper compensation (if possible) or proper environmental clean-up.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Philippine Mining Act of 1995

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Sarah Beamish, Extracting Accountability: The Need to End Impunity for Environmental Crimes and Human Rights Abuses Committed by Canadian Corporations Abroad (New Haven, Ct.: One Justice Project, 2014).

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[7] GMA News online (17/09/2008). SC tells RCBC to go after Marcopper: (accessed 20/04/2015)

[1] Socialwatch 2005. Marinduque mining disaster (accessed 20/04/2015)

[2] Mining Watch /Catherine Coumans. 2002. Placer Dome Case Study: Marcopper Mine. (accessed 20/04/2015)

[6] Business World online (25.03.2015). Mining-free Marinduque? (accessed 20/04/2015)

[5] Mining Watch Canada 2014. Philippine Province’s Lawsuit against Barrick Gold Could End Up in Canada. (accessed 20/04/2015)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video Documentary on the case “Bleeding Heart”

Other documents

[8] Marinduque Mining Tenement Map

[3] Historical Overview of and Updates on Mining in Marinduqe and its Impacts. Marinduque Council of Environmental Concerns (MACEC). 2005 (accessed 20/04/2015) Source:

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
Last update18/08/2019



Marcopper Mining Spills


Marcopper pit


Waste disposal into the Bay


The Marcopper Tapian pit


River contamined by copper-sulphate


Situation of Mogpog river now in Marinduque