ITOGON, Benguet – Villagers in host communities of Benguet Corporation’s tailings dam No. 2A located in the premises of barangay Virac unanimously agreed to the plan of the mining company to raise its dam crest from the current 768 meters above sea level to a maximum of 775 meters above sea level to ensure the integrity of the dam and the safety of adjoining communities in the area.
The consent given by the villagers was concretized in a memorandum of agreement signed between Benguet Corporation (BC) represented by Valeriano B. Bongalos, Jr., vice president and general manager, and the Batuang, Lower Dalicno and Maligaya Residents Civic Association (BLDMCA) represented by its council of elders and officers.
Lawyer Froilan Roger Lawilao, head of BC’s administrative department, disclosed the villagers agreed that the company immediately raise the elevation of its tailings dam 2A from its current level of 768 meters above sea level to 770 meters above sea level while the raising of the dam to 775 meters above sea level will be dependent on the prevailing situation of the dam and that it will be done on a staggered basis.
“It was a win-win solution for both the company and the villagers because the enhancement of the dam was primarily geared towards ensuring the integrity of the facility and the safety of the people living in the adjoining communities” Lawilao stressed. This, he added, is part of BC’s continuing commitment to safeguard the well-being of Itogon residents while granting them maximum benefits as part of the company’s aims to contribute to the town’s progress.
Earlier, the villagers agreed that the mining company initially raise its dam crest from 766 meters above sea level to 768 meters above sea level while negotiations were underway for the crafting of an agreement to elevate the dam to the elevation prescribed in BC’s amended environmental compliance certificate (ECC) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on December 15, 2010.
Under the agreement, BC’s commitments include the assessment and joint inventory of the would be affected properties and improvements of the residents-members of the civic organization, repair and rehabilitation of the two old diversion tunnels and three new diversion tunnels, maintenance of the penstock to ensure its full operation at all times and restoration of the old Dalicno road.
Lawilao said the company is also obliged to issue an undertaking and certification as to the stability and structural integrity of the tailings pond 2A, implement all necessary remedial and emergency measures in order to ensure the safe operation of the dam and its appurtenances upon recommendation of the concerned government regulatory agencies, inform and involve the members of the organization in the planning and implementation of the programs, pans and activities affecting them, provide employment and scholarship opportunities to the residents and children of the villagers based on availability, qualifications and compliance with the existing employment and scholarship standards and policies of the company.
Furthermore, BC is mandated to pay reasonable compensation to the affected villagers in case of disaster where the dam 2A will collapse pursuant to the list of valuations and based on the stipulations agreed upon between the parties, provide relocation area to the affected villagers in the event that their residences are completely and permanently lost which necessitates the allocation of a relocation area based on agreed rules, issue of written notices to the villagers in all matters covered by the agreement, implement its approved disaster control strategy plan in accordance its overall emergency disaster plan as approved by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
The company was tasked to maintain dam 2A and appurtenances even after BC shall have ceased operations in accordance to its approved final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning plan, provide materials for the water system of the residents, provide access to electricity to villagers for emergency and community undertakings, award three caretakerships to the villagers to be undertaken on a rotation basis by the residents and award one working area to the villagers under the Acupan Contract Mining Project as a source of livelihood for the residents.
On the other hand, the villagers will allow BC to raise the dam crest elevation of its dam 2A to a maximum height of 775 meters as provided for in the amended ECC. Immediately after the execution of the agreement, BC shall carry out the raising of the dam crest elevation of its dam 2A to 770 meters and thereafter, a gradual increase shall be undertaken by the company as the need arises until such time that the maximum height of 775 meters is achieved.
The villagers will also provide assistance and cooperation in the assessment and joint inventory of the affected properties and improvements of the residents, allow and assure the company not to delay the performance of all necessary remedial and emergency measures in order to ensure the safe operation of the dam 2A.
Moreover, the villagers are obliged to help and assist in the maintenance of peace and order over the premises, undertake measures within their control to safeguard the personnel and equipments and other properties of the company in their area of responsibility from undue harm and obstruction.
The residents are also mandated to cooperate with the company in the implementation of the commitments subject of the agreement and any assistance program for their benefit and undertake not to conduct any picketing, mass concerted action and any other acts that will cause the delay or stoppage of the performance of the works for the raising of the dam embankment and as much as possible to resort to amicable settlement of issues provided therein.