Lax policies blamed for Itogon disaster

Corporate social responsibility a myth

BAGUIO CITY — An anti-mining group in Benguet province claimed that the disaster in one of the mining villages of Itogon town that buried 16 small scale miners is traceable to lax environmental and pro-corporate mining policies of the country.

ANOTHER ATTEMPT. Miners make another attempt to rescue their fellows trapped at shaft 114 of Goldfield in Poblacion, Itogon, Benguet last week. Two additional pocket miners were reported to have been missing together with the 14 other that were reported earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Redjie Melvic Cawis/PIA

Virgel Aniceto, spokesperson of the newly formed Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN), pointed out the lax environmental policy of the state is manifested by the absence of a rehabilitation program by the Benguet Corporation (BC) after it profited from mining the Itogon area for many years since 1903. BMAAN is a new organization which advocates sustainable environment.

Aniceto’s pronouncements came in the wake of reports that quoted Itogon Mayor Mario Godio as seeking a review of Republic Act 7076 or the People’s small Scale Mining Act of 1991.

No rehabilitation

“The absence of rehabilitation over the mined out areas shows that corporate social responsibility to affected communities is just a myth,” Aniceto explained in a phone interview.

Aniceto pointed out as concrete example the latest destruction brought by mining in Itogon town.

The landslides in Sitio Bedda in barangay Loakan, Itogon, were mainly caused by the collapse of two BC tunnels below the church of the Iglesia ni Kristo in that area.

The church was among the buildings not destroyed due to the slides, but at least 51 houses were destroyed causing at least 400 residents to evacuate the areas. Residents claimed the landslides and collapse of the tunnels was due to mining.

Trapped miners

The collapsed tunnels, believed 700 feet deep, trapped 16 small scale miners at the height of typhoon Nina.

The miners, mostly from Ifugao in the Cordillera and Quirino in the Cagayan Valley, were allegedly contracted by BC under the Community Mining Program, where a sharing scheme between the company and the miners are agreed on, sources revealed.

The bodies recovered were in the stages of decomposition Thursday night, two bodies were found inside the tunnel when flood waters started to rise. The first body was that of Joel Bulga from Aglipay, Quirino, while the second was identified as Vincent Himmayod from Nagtipunan, also in Quirino.

Earlier, the National Disaster Coordinating Council identified the other 14 as Gilbert Nattem, Garry Ganu, Rudy Boling Jr., Joel Bulga, Jeyson Himmayod, Rudy Himmayod, Jojo Himmayod, Juan Himmayod, Marvin Himmayod, Vincent Himmayod, Joseph Anayasan, Mario Annayasan, Gerry Monyboda, and Robert Buway. Two other missing miners were named as Nitnit Pagulayan and Jose Panio.

Rescue and retrieval

The rescue and retrieval operations for the trapped miners are on its sixth day in Sitio Goldfields in Barangay Poblacion.

Various government, private and non-government organizations are among those joining the operations but community members are leading the rescue despite bad weather.

As early as Tuesday, SN Aboitiz Philippines-Benguet dispatched personnel and equipment to aid in the rescue but to no avail as the rush of flood waters was so strong and the tunnels filled up to chin-deep.

On Thursday and Friday, more groups pitched in, even giving crash lessons in SCUBA diving.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in a statement pointed to large scale mining, particularly BC, as the culprit. “Their effort to rescue is the least they can do and it must not cover up their responsibility and accountability in the whole disaster – the loss of lives, the environmental disaster, displacement of families and the demolished community which could never be built again. What future awaits the displaced families who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their community” the statement read.

Meanwhile, while government environment authorities see corporate liability over the disaster, BC’s Reynaldo Mendoza, vice-president for legal affairs, said the tunnel where the miners remained trapped is a “no mining zone,” insinuating that the miners entered the mines without permission.

BC has been in Itogon for a century. In 1996, it stopped its open pit mining that stripped mountains of its forest covers in Itogon.

In 2000, the company started its community mining scheme where any one interested can join small scale mining activities after company approval.

In 2005, it offered its Antamok open pit as a water reservoir for a bulk water project it won for Baguio City. # Arthur L. Allad-iw (NorDis)


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