BAGUIO CITY — Some 300 residents of nearby Itogon, Benguet appealed to Roman Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon to intervene following the mining accident that trapped 16 indigenous miners in a mine tunnel last month.
“Your Excellency, a big landslide threatened the communities around the Benguet Corporation (BC) Antamok mined-out area. That incident is very revealing as to the current status of the land in that area,” the petition of the people of Barangays Ucab and Tuding in Itogon states.
The petitioners, mostly from sitios Tram, Miners’ Side, Bagto, Peday all in Ucab and sitio Slide in Tuding fear for their lives having witnessed how unstable and risky the lands in the Antamok mine sites are.
The petitioners specifically asked Cenzon’s intervention and assistance to cause the immediate suspension and holding in abeyance of all mining activities near the Miners Side community at Antamok Tram, Itogon, Benguet, until a real and serious investigation are done regarding the stability of the lands in the area, the environmental feasibility of mining in the area, and the environmental impact on the communities .
Typhoon Nina last month caused a massive slide in Barangay Loacan, also in Itogon. Almost 100 families sought refuge on safer grounds and are now seeking permanent relocation site.
The landslide blocked the water way that diverted the Ambalanga River and reportedly caused the unexpected flooding of several underground mine destinations, trapping 16 miners.
Six of the miners died while ten others were rescued alive after almost two weeks inside the flooded tunnel.
“The mining operations conducted in Antamok for decades which ended with the open-pit operation is now taking its toll on the land and environment, and most of all is threatening our communities particularly as we now realize how insecure the lands are on which we have built our houses and continue to raise our families,” the petition pointed out.
BC started its operations in Antamok in early 1900’s. Other mine sites, besides Antamok, have been contracted to small scale miners mostly from Cordillera, with the ore production-sharing scheme of 60-40, or the miners getting only 60% of their ore giving the rest to the company.
“We could not understand how these operators could have acquired legitimate permits, if ever they do have one, without proper public consultations, and after the occurrence of a massive environmental disaster,” the petition said in questioning government regulatory policies on mining.
“How could mining operations be allowed in an area which has already been mined out, and proven to be unstable, posing a direct and real threat to homes, lives and properties?” the petitioners said.
Meanwhile, Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan told the press Tuesday the comprehensive investigation on the Itogon mining disaster is still ongoing. He said a multi-sectoral committee has been formed to look into the plight of the families affected by the landslide.
“We wanted to know who or what the culprit is,” Fongwan told the media in a press conference. He said while the presidential investigation is being conducted, he had to look for means to relocate the affected families.
As this developed, Fongwan said the Luneta Elementary School has been closed and pupils had to be transfered to another school, which he did not disclose. # Lyn V. Ramo