By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY – The number of groups calling to hold Benguet Corporation, Incorporated (BCI) also responsible increases as the body count rises in Itogon, Benguet province from land slides when Typhoon Ompong hit the region.
Codillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) said the massive landslides that occurred in the different areas in the municipality are “undoubtedly” a result of BCI’s operation over the years.
“The old tunnels of BCI have rendered the mountains unstable and extremely vulnerable to landslides and sinkholes,” explained Sarah Dekdeken, CPA’s secretary general.
With BCI’s consent
BCI released a statement on Tuesday, September 18, denying the company encourages small-scale miners to extract from their tunnel. The firm said the miners were operating illegally and without their permission.
But Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan, disputed the company’s claim. During a press briefing with other officials the following day, he said they can prove that BCI allowed the small-scale miners to use Tunnel 70 in Brgy. Ucab and build bunkhouses in the area.
“BCI has security guards surrounding this area and they will not allow any person to enter if they do not have any permission,” he explained in mixed English and Filipino.
The mayor claimed that small scale miners are willing to stand that BCI gets a share from the miners’ production by providing gate passes for the tunnel.
Santos Mero, CPA Vice Chairperson for Internal Affairs and resident of Itogon supported Palangdan’s statement.
“People in Itogon are aware that nobody can enter the areas under BCI’s mineral claim especially the tunnels without their permission,” the CPA said, adding “the company in fact promoted contract agreements with small miners.”
Meanwhile, in the recently concluded International People’s Tribunal (IPT) in Brussels, Belgium, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment cited the disaster to highlight mining-related human rights violation under President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Benguet Corporation was compelled to rehabilitate their abandoned mine site in Itogon as part of the 2017 suspension order meted upon them,” said Clemente Bautista, international network coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE and one of the expert witnesses during the IPT deliberation.
BCI was fined in 2016 for the 50,000 metric ton mining waste leak from its old tailings pond. Its abandoned and unrehabilitated tunnels also caused a sinkhole that took a three-storey house in 2015.
However, Bautista said Duterte did not enforce the suspension against BCI “despite their unresolved record of environmental violations.”
The IPT is primarily “a court for public opinion”. However, decisions handed down by jurors composed of internationally recognized law experts compliment legal proceedings.
Small miners’ are victims
CPA underscored that “small-scale miners and the communities are the victims,” noting the incident again highlighted large-scale mining impacts to the environment.
“After more than 100 years of extracting gold and other minerals, BCI also did nothing to effectively rehabilitate Itogon,” said Dekdeken.
She pointed that “destruction of agricultural lands, lack of government support to agriculture, poisoning of rivers from toxic mine wastes, and lack of job opportunities” force people in the area and nearby province to resort to pocket mining.
Resist mining companies
Meanwhile, the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front, in a statement called on the people to “further strengthen their ranks and fight for the defense of land and its natural resources.”
“To prevent further tragedies, we must steadfastly resist the entry of large-scale mining companies and other destructive projects,” said CPDF spokesperson Simon “Ka Filiw” Naogsan.
The rebel leader lambasted the government for condemning and putting restriction to small-scale mining “while allowing large mining companies to pillage the Cordillera’s rich natural resources.”
He called the ban on small scale mining “ludicrous” saying the locals are aware that BCI “is responsible for putting the miners’ lives at risk.”
Naogsan challenged the authorities to “go after the greedy local and foreign mining companies” that destroy and plunder, “instead of blaming the poor.”# nordis.net