LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – President Rodrigo Duterte expressed support to the decision of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to suspend all legal and illegal small-scale mining operations in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) after the tragic landslide that buried dozens of people alive in a bunkhouse-turned-chapel at Sitio 070, Ucab, Itogon, Benguet during the height of Tropical Cyclone Ompong last Saturday.
Duterte, who presided over a post-disaster assessment briefing at the Ben Palispis Hall of the Benguet Provincial Capitol, here, claimed that there will come a time that he will confront Congress on the serious repercussions of mining to the environment and the safety of the people living in mined-out communities all over the country to decide on whether or not the government will still continue to embrace mining as one of the country’s economic driver.
The Chief Executive underscored it is high time for the government to weigh its options on whether to make do with the meager P70 billion contribution of mining to the country’s economy or give importance to its serious negative impact to the state of the environment, safety and health of the people and the future of the present generations of Filipinos.
He pointed out that if he had his way, he will totally stop mining in the country to allow the environment to recover from the damages it sustained in decades of mining operations in the country.
Duterte also instructed DENR officials and employees to make sure that the small-scale miners will not be too close to their residences to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in their working areas in the future.
Nearly a hundred people have been feared to have died after a huge landslide buried an abandoned bunkhouse-turned-chapel being used by small-scale miners as their evacuation center during the onslaught of Tropical Cyclone Ompong at Ucab, Itogon, Benguet last Saturday.
Earlier, Cimatu ordered the stoppage of all legal and illegal small-scale mining operations in the CAR as an offshoot of the tragic landslide that resulted to the untimely demise of dozens of pocket miners who were trapped inside their chapel.
However, Secretary Cimatu acceded to the appeal of Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan for the conduct of a technical conference among the concerned government agencies and stakeholders for the crafting of a comprehensive plan that will allow the transition of Itogon town from a mining area to an agricultural community and for the possibility of identifying the suitable areas where the Minahang Bayan could be established.
Mining is the major source of over 12,000 pocket miners in different private mine tunnels that have been established in the different parts of Itogon.
Secretary Cimatu also ordered the outright cancellation of the 10 temporary small-scale mining permits issued by the previous administration to some 500 small-scale miners in the municipality.
However, the environment official did not divulge any time frame on the stoppage of all legal and small-scale mining operations in the CAR as he claimed that he will instead put some additional requirements to the already stringent regulations for the establishment of Minahang Bayan areas in the country to ensure the safety of both the residents and the pocket miners.
Mayor Palangdan explained that the area was previously identified as a hazardous place by no less than the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) but pocket mining activities in the place still continued despite his repeated requests to the concerned government agencies and even the National Mining Task Force Challenge for the stoppage of the illegal small-scale mining activities in the area.
He added that prior to Tropical Cyclone Ompong, he already sent personnel of the Itogon Municipal Police Station and Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) to advise the small-scale miners to already evacuate from their residences as part of the government’s pre-emptive evacuation efforts but the miners preferred to go to the abandoned bunkhouse where their chapel is located and declared that it was their evacuation center with sufficient food supply.
According to him, some of the pocket miners and their families refused to transfer to a safer evacuation center and even laughed at the authorities who were implementing the pre-emptive evacuation of the people in the already declared dangerous area.
On her part, regional director Fay Apil of the Cordillera office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR) said there were already indications of breaches in the highly fractured soil and rock formation in the area considering that the site is already part of the abandoned mine site of the Benguet Corporation (BC) that closed its operations over two and a half decades ago after a century of mining activities in the locality.
She claimed that appropriate information of the hazardous situation of the area was already provided the concerned small-scale miners but they still insisted to purse their operations until the occurrence of the tragic incident.
Officials of the environment department, social welfare department, labor and employment department, agriculture department, among others, agreed to provide the small-scale miners who will be displaced from their source of livelihood with appropriate emergency assistance while looking for long-term alternative solutions for them to have sustainable sources of livelihood for their families.
Palangdan respected Cimatu’s decision to totally stop small-scale mining in the CAR but called on concerned government agencies to pool their available resources as initial assistance to the displaced small-scale miners and those affected pocket miners who will be sent home to their home provinces.
Banner photo: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte met with the bereaved families affected by typhoon Ompong in Baguio City and Benguet during his visit to the Benguet Provincial Capitol a day after the typhoon hit the province. Duterte condoled with the families and distributed cash assistance thru the DSWD and the Office of the President. RMC PIA-CAR