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September 27, 2008
Mining, Typhoon, Geologic Structures Blamed for Benguet Mining Town’s Disasters

Anti-mining groups are blaming large-scale mining operations for the recent tragedies at the mining town of Itogon in Benguet, while the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) readily pointed to typhoon Nina and geologic structures as culprits.

BY ACE ALEGRE
Contributor

Itogon, Benguet (200 kms. North of Manila) – Act of man or act of God?

Anti-mining groups are blaming large-scale mining operations for the recent tragedies at the mining town of Itogon in Benguet, while the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) readily pointed to typhoon Nina and geologic structures there as culprits.

“There is much Benguet Corporation (BC) has to account for in the horrendous disaster in Itogon that severely affected the lives of local residents,” said Igorot leader Windel Bolinget, whose group Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has been organizing local Itogon folk.

Just as the harrowing incident of the 16 trapped miners at level 700 in Itogon town proper was about to happen on Monday evening, a landslide took place at Sitios (sub-villages) Tuge and Beda, in Barangay (village) Loacan.

At least 51 houses were totally destroyed at Sitios Tuge and Beda and 71 families were evacuated.

Ptr. Vergel Aniceto, a resident from the area, said that if not for the controversial open pit operations of BC, which had been stopped in the late 1990s, their villages would still be stable.

MGB-Cordillera director Neoman dela Cruz however readily exonerated BC and claimed that the geologic structures in Loacan caused the ground movements especially during the heavy rains.

He added that the residents along the BC-Baguio Gold where the landslides occurred last Monday were accordingly already given financial assistance and should have relocated themselves long ago.

But Bolinget said, “Putting the blame solely on natural calamities and small-scale mining is both lame and weak, when we know for a fact that BC’s socially and environmentally destructive large mining operations since 1903 are to be blamed for the disaster.”

Gov. Nestor Fongwan stll refuses to comment on the seeming disagreements between Itogon residents and the mining giant BC.

But Itogon mayor Mario Godio is seeking a review of laws on mining in the wake of these incidents.

Mayor Godio said the 16 trapped miners in the BC tunnel level 700 at Gold Field in Antamok “were subcontracted and were not required to register with the local government.”

The local executive thinks a review of the country’s mining laws including those on small-scale mining is best, though he did not elaborate what amendments he would propose.

Godio said their investigation showed the 16 miners were subcontracted workers of BC, although Dela Cruz claimed that the 16 illegally entered the tunnels, thus virtually blaming them for their “indiscretion” at the height of the typhoon.

Other disaster-prone mining areas

In July 1999, in the mining town of Mankayan in Benguet, lives were lost and properties destroyed when a whole mountain in Brgy. Colalo collapsed.

Residents blamed the seven decade-old Lepanto Mining Corporation’s operations but again the MGB exonerated the firm and insisted it was a natural geological occurrence.

“Massive underground operations softened and weakened Colalo grounds, (so) any typhoon can aggravate a disaster,” said Bolinget.

The Colalo disaster in 1999 can be likened to what happened in Loacan in Itogon, Bolinget said. “The environment, the mountains should never have been disturbed in the first place,” citing the mining disasters in Rapu-Rapu where Lafayette Mines operated since 2005 and in Marinduque, where Marcopper created the country’s largest mining disaster in 1996.
“(These) prove that the Itogon landslide is not an isolated, naturally occurring incident” he said.

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