By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The sinking in sitio Kamanggaan, Barangay Virac, Itogon, Benguet that swallowed six houses and displaced 166 families is no mystery, according to Engr. Vergel Aniceto of Kaiabang, the Benguet chapter of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Aniceto points out the accountability to the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) and the Benguet Corporation (BC) itself for the said disaster.
“The MGB and Benguet Corporation should stop pretending that they do not know the reason for the sinkhole. The over 100 years of mining activity, extracting truck loads of ore and soil whether from BC’s or smal
l scale mining has undeniably compromised the safety of the ground surface,” Aniceto reiterated.
Aniceto pointed out that the MGB should have been able to monitor any compromise in the mine tunnels of BC because there is supposed to be a monthly monitoring being conducted.
Aniceto is a resident of Barangay Ucab also among the communities affected by the mining activities in Itogon.
The MGB has yet to release the official result of a series of inspections jointly conducted with the Itogon local government and BC. MGB Regional Director Faye Apil said it (the cave-in) is definitely man made.
Aniceto said the sinking did not happen overnight. “Based on interviews with affected residents we learned that as early as a month ago they were already hearing grumbling sounds underneath their houses,” he said.
He said there are at least three major BC tunnels that passes under sitio Kamanggaan: two diversion tunnels and the tunnel BC designated for the mine tours.
Aniceto said the roof of the diversion tunnels may have been compromised due to the huge amount of rain that poured into the province since July. He said the amount of rainfall since the July monsoons, to typhoon Ineng in August then finally typhoon Lando in October is way beyond the normal rainfall that the ground could absorb considering the already denuded mountains, existing tunnels and mine operations, and the dense population in the area.
“The most logical explanation to the sinking in Kamangaan is that the tunnel roof may have been compromised earlier and the ground above it may have been falling since, until the void became bigger and bigger that the surface gave way after Lando,” he explained.
Aniceto said Kamanggaan is not the only endangered area because there had been ground sinking even before that were caused by the collapse of BC old tunnels. He said that as early as the 1970s there had been sinking in Baayan village up to 2008 when two tunnels collapsed causing the total damage to the Iglesia ni Kristo church and 32 other houses in Barangay Loakan.
“There is a void under Itogon because of the overlapping tunnels of Benguet Corporation built from 1903 to the 1990s and the continuing operations until today,” he said.
Aniceto stressed that even if BC claims that the Acupan Contract Mining Project is contracted to several small scale mines, the company still has a share from the profits of this extractive activity. “So technically an employee-employer relationship between Benguet Corporation and the small scale miners exists,” he added.
Aniceto said what happened in sitio Kamanggaan is actually a chilling reminder that other villages of Itogon above the overlapping BC tunnels would suffer the same fate if not properly identified and mitigated now.
“While there is nothing we con do to bring back what was lost to the over 100 years of mining exploits of Benguet Corporation in Itogon, measures could be undertaken to prevent bigger and more devastating disasters in the future,” Aniceto said.
Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of CPA in a press release said that the BC century old mine operation has been taking its toll on the environs and lives of the people of Itogon. He said that in 1937, a disaster hit Gumatdang, Itogon’s oldest rice-producing village lost its irrigation source when the Atok-Big Wedge drove in two gigantic tunnels on opposite sides of the village.
Mero added that in 1962, BC drove in another drainage tunnel that stretched between its Kelly mine in Gumatdang and its mines in Antamok that has drained water from the mines and water from a major irrigation source, drying up more rice fields.
“Ventilation shafts have also drawn water away from surface streams, irrigation canals, and pond fields. In addition, the felling of timber to shore up underground tunnels has denuded surrounding watersheds, aggravating water loss,” he added.
Mero stressed that the century old mining activities of BC has left permanent and irreparable damage on the environs of Itogon and its adjacent communities that has led to several environmental disasters.
After a century of mining plunder, Benguet Corporation should leave the people of Itogon. A century of mining is enough. Benguet Corporation, out of Itogon,” Mero said.
Mero is also a local from Itogon. # nordis.net