June 28, 2009 in Baguio City
By LYN V. RAMO
BAGUIO CITY — A woman in her 50’s could not help but shed a tear at the thought that at least six of her nephews and nieces are presently facing an imminent danger in Mankayan.
Janet Mayanggao, a resident of Colalo, Mankayan, Benguet, was among locals who retold stories about sinking incidents in the mining town Tuesday. Herself a witness on how people scampered to safety in the 1999 collapse of the Colalo Elementary School, Mayanggao vividly told the press how a mother feels about the sinking.
“When Colalo collapsed, it ‘swallowed’ a man alive and he was never seen since,” Mayaggao said referring to the July 26, 1999 landslide that sent some two million cubic meters of soil and debris into the Mankayan River, a tributary of the Abra River.
One Pablo Gomez, was buried alive in that incident.
Said landslide also encroached into a portion of tailings pond 5A of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC), according to a report of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines.
Acting on the request by then congressman Ronald Cosalan, NIGS conducted a comprehensive geological study after the collapse of Colalo and earlier in 1998, Aurora Street in Poblacion, Mankayan.
The same area that NIGS studied in August, 1999 collapsed on June 5 and locals continue to be haunted by yet another subsidence, knowing that the rainy season has just set in.
Mayanggao has nephews and nieces living near the Mankayan Central School (MCS) and the Mankayan National High School (MNHS). Two are in grade-school, four others in high school.
“They are so young, and they do not mind danger,” she said adding small children even look at the sinkhole with curiosity and fondness, not minding the danger.
With the subsidence in mind, Mayanggao also thinks of the collapse of economic activities of the people of Mankayan. Thinking like a typical mother, she worries that people would lose their livelihood with the ground sinking to the giant pits underneath.
Besides mining, most Mankayan residents earn a living planting the mountainsides to crops like palay, corn, temperate vegetables and legumes. They also tend to farm animals and some even raise fish in fish terraces and along river banks.
With the ground declared unstable, women like Mayanggao, a leader of the local Innabuyog-Gabriela chapter, could not help but feel helpless.
“Dakami nga inna ti madanagan. Anya ngay pangalaan mi’t pagbiag mi? Ayan na ngay ti pangipanan mi’t pamilya mi?” (We, mothers keep worrying. Where do we get livelihood? Where do we settle our families?) she asks, with uncertainty in mind.
After hearing miners’ testimonies that indeed underground tunnels are crisscrossing Mankayan, even the youth representative, Chester Tuazon of Anakbayan, readily condemned Lepanto’s mining operations, which he said has contributed a lot in the degradation of the environment.
In the same forum, former miners Martes Boli-e and Vicente Dilem testified having seen the underground workings that might have given way, thus causing the collapse of a sizable portion of the former site of MCS and MNHS along Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion.
The subsidence displaced at least eight families and threatened several other houses.
“We also condemn Lepanto’s denial that it has destroyed Mankayan and we hold the company accountable for this destruction,” Tuazon said.
Tuazon reiterated his earlier call for local government officials to seriously consider an impartial investigation into the Aurora sinking, including that of the Colalo area and other mining structures that are threatening the lives of Mankayan residents, as well as the environment. He mentioned the pollution of Abra River as a result of 65 years of LCMC’s operations.
Rev. Jonathan Obar of the Anglican Church, who served Mankayan for 12 years, said even the religious sector, which should be viewed as partners in development have been branded as going against the government when they spoke of the destruction in mining communities like Mankayan.
Others in the panel of discussants were Colalo Barangay Captain Ambino Padawi and Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice-chair Xavier Akien.
Padawi called for LCMC’s pullout amid the massive threat to the environment and people’s lives in the affected communities.# nordis.net