June 28, 2009 in Cordillera
By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY ¯ Local residents of Mankayan, Benguet want mining operations there to stop amid continuing threat of subsidence in many parts of the said mineral-rich town.
“Pirmi a nadadadael ti Mankayan gapu iti operasyon ti minas iti las-ud ti mano a tawen, adu ti linumned ken nargaa-ay a dagdaga ken taltalon ken nadadael a balbalay kasta met a sanikua’” (Mankayan is very much destroyed because of the many years of mining operations, many lands and farms sunk and subsided and houses as well as properties were destroyed.) Colalo Barangay Captain Ambino Padawi said.
Padawi was among Mankayan residents who had an audience with Baguio-based media Tuesday to air their grievances over the recent sinking incident in Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion.
“Tapno adda pay laeng dagiti paspaset ti Mankayan a mabati, maymayat nga isardeng ti Lepanto ti expansion na nu saan man nga ti operasyon na,” (It is better that Lepanto stopped its expansion, if not its operations, so that parts of Mankayan will still remain with us) Padawi added.
Vicente Dilem, a former miner of Lepanto said mined-out tunnels of Lepanto were only back-filled loosely. These make the surface ground vulnerable to sinking.
“Nagadu ti abut iti underground iti Mankayan,” (There are many tunnels in the undergrounds of Mankayan) Dilem said.
Colalo incident recalled
A woman community leader in Mankayan still remembers the collapse of her community’s school house ten years after the historic sinking that claimed a sizable portion of Barangay Colalo.
The continuous massive land subsidence that destroyed at least eight houses and the grounds and buildings of Mankayan Central School and Mankayan National High School (MNHS) which started in the first week of June reminded Mrs. Janet Mayanggao of what happened almost ten years ago in her Barangay of Colalo.
“Nasakit latta a lagipen diay a napasamak kadakami ket mabutengak manen ta maul-ulit itatta. Kas ina, nagmadi a talaga ti riknak a makita dagiti uubbing a delikado ti ayan da manen iti uneg ti iskuwelaan da,”(It still very painful to me to remember what happened to us before and I am afraid because it is happening again. As a mother, I feel bad to see that the lives of the children are again in danger inside their school) Mayanggao said referring to her nieces and nephews who are studying in MNHS. Mayanggao fears the repeat of the disaster they experienced affecting more lives and destruction of properties.
What happened almost 10 years ago
A report by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) traced the chronology of the Colalo sinking.
On July 21, 1999, residents observed large cracks above the quarry site of Barangay Colalo proper, according to CPA. These cracks continued to appear in the school area and near some residential houses and grew wider and bigger along the Mankayan-Cervantes National Road, added CPA.
Sensing the danger, barangay officials requested Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) to observe the ground movements, but the company ignored them.
On July 26, 1999 at 7:15 A.M., fearing for the worst, the residents started to evacuate to safer grounds. The people as well as the students started moving the school facilities and equipment, and not long after that, a large portion of Colalo Proper eroded.
The erosion totally destroyed the school, four houses, and parts of the road, several farms, and other properties. A church was also partially damaged. A total of 10 hectares was affected. A resident of Colalo, Pablo Gomez, a father of five was buried alive while helping transport school facilities to safe ground.
A week after the disaster, the people of Colalo, assisted by people from other places, constructed a makeshift school enabling students to continue schooling after being disrupted for two weeks.
Inquiry gone bad
In August 1999, then Benguet Congressman Ronald Cosalan requested an inquiry from the Congressional Committee on Environment, which gathered officials of Colalo, Mankayan municipal government, the mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Natural Resources-Cordillera Administrative Region (MGB-DENR-CAR) and representatives of Lepanto.
Colalo representatives insisted that the destruction was caused mainly by the quarrying activities of Lepanto and its construction of tailings dam. The residents claimed that it caused the soil to become softer and more vulnerable to erosion.
Lepanto said the incident was due to natural causes and even said it was “an act of God.” The residents were not satisfied by the inquiry. A second round was recommended.
Cosalan requested the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines-Diliman to conduct an independent investigation of the incident and the sinking of Poblacion, Mankayan.
According to the results of the investigation, the incident could be attributed to the geological characteristics of the locality aggravated by heavy rains. On the other hand, the construction of the tailings dam resulted in the elevation of water table and the removal of the basal support due to quarrying. The study proved the opinion of the residents correct.
“Despite the results of the investigation of the NIGS, the MGB refuted the findings. MGB said the findings are not conclusive and upheld the opinion of Lepanto that the incident was due to natural causes,” CPA said in its statement.
Lepanto up to now continues denying its responsibility on the land subsidence and destruction in Mankayan. Last June 17, engineers from the MGB who visited the site said the latest subsidence in Barangay Poblacion was caused by the monsoon rains.
Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan also visited the area one day after the MGB visit and came up with his own recommendations, among which was his declaration of the town as a calamity area and the evacuation of threatened residents.# nordis.net