MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Hazards of Corporate Mining

Published by MAC on 2004-11-25

Hazards of Corporate Mining

By Lyn V. Ramo, Northern Dispatch - Posted by Bulatlat

25th November 2004

Safety is almost impossible in an industry like mining which has been considered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as the most unsafe human activity.

Baguio - Safety is almost impossible in an industry like mining which has been considered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as the most unsafe human activity.

The Philippines' Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) director however claims the Philippine mining industry has already perfected safety in the mine site. MGB Director Horacio Ramos made this statement during a weekly media forum last week.

The MGB initiated several activities last week in celebration of the mining safety and environment week, including a mining caravan, golf, bowling and tennis tournaments, an industry parade and field competitions involving mine workers. A mine safety demonstration by Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation (LCMCo) displayed mine workers' safety consciousness.

Unreported mine accidents

In a separate press conference, James Tulipa of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement)-Cordillera, said that mining companies in the region employ deceiving tactics to evade records of accidents in the mine sites.

Tulipa said workers who figure in accidents in the workplace are either made to sign their daily time record or are assigned as janitors at the manager's change-room or lunchroom to make it appear that no accident ever occurred.

According to him, the management makes the different departments in the mine compete for zero-accident records, giving cash bonuses for workers and department heads and a possible promotion for the mining boss.

Tulipa used to work for the Itogon-Suyoc Mines, Inc. (ISMI), LCMCo, and was a contract miner of Benguet Corporation's (BC) Balatoc Partnership Mines. He led the ISMI mine-workers' union in the late 1990s and worked among the mine workers of Philex Mining Corporation (Philex) as a trade union organizer. ISMI, LCMCo, BC, Balatoc Partnership Mines and Philex all have mining operations in the Cordillera region.

Tulipa said that both Philex and LCMCo, the only remaining profitable mines in Benguet, use similar tactics of not reporting work-related accidents, usually involving rock and timber falls.

Tulipa blamed the shift from conventional to mechanized mining methods which he said cause more accidents in the mines. He cited a case of a heavy equipment operator in Philex who suffocated because the ore gave in on the huge load-haul-and-dump machine he was operating. Another worker was crushed to the wall by a huge equipment.

Onerous partnership

Nida Legazpi, chairperson of the Itogon Inter-barangay Alliance (IIB-A), refuted BC's earlier claims that its contract mining is safe. Itogon is a municipality of Benguet province, 200 kms north of Manila.

She also revealed that those used by small-scale miners in Balatoc are actually abandoned, rotting tunnels. Rotten timber, according to Legazpi, emits a foul-smelling gas that causes deaths among small-scale miners.

"Miners often have to run outside the tunnel for oxygen," Legazpi explains. She said that the gas is so potent that it can put out a lighted candle or miner's carbide lamps.

Legazpi also lamented that more deaths occur today because miners no longer use traditional non-electronic lighting device.

Legazpi also reported fatal accidents involving contract miners that were not reported by the BC. Worse, Legazpi said, these private miners are not covered by any medical and security system and that the company does not extend any benefit to them.

"Wala sa usapan ang safety, dahil ang pinag-uusapan lang sa kontrata ay ang 60-40 sharing scheme" (Safety was not included in the agreement because the mining contract only dealt with the sharing arrangements), Legazpi said, adding that the arrangement is onerous at the expense of the miners who have to bear all production costs and risk losing their lives in the mine site.

Century-old plunder

Itogon has been the site of corporate mining operations which BC started at the turn of the 20th century. According to IIB-A, a century of plunder of Itogon's mineral and forest resources, including that of water which is used in gold, copper and silver extraction, has left its environment devastated. IIB-A demands that mining companies rehabilitate the mined-out areas.

Today only Philex is gainfully mining Itogon's silver, copper and gold. Like BC, Philex also has the reputation of devastating a large portion of agricultural lands due to its open-pit mining operations that scraped the whole Camaring mountain in Sitio Alang in Brgy. Camp 3, Itogon. Its mine effluents and silt find their way into the Agno River rendering the San Roque Multi-purpose Dam in San Manuel heavily silted in just two years.

Beyond Mankayan

Meanwhile, peasants in Mankayan, another Benguet town, said that LCMCo has been causing irreversible environmental damage not only in Mankayan but also in other towns along the Abra River. Sinking, they say, plagues the towns. The sinking in Colalo, a sub-village of Mankayan, has in fact not stopped.

"Ti sinking ti Colalo ket saan pay a simmardeng," (The sinking of Colalo continues), declares Albert Diego, Dangayan dagiti Umili a Maseknan iti Mankayan (Damayan or concerned villagers' association of Mankayan) spokesperson, saying that even residents in the Poblacion are wary of an inevitable disaster due to Lepanto's operations. Diego recounts that 68 years of corporate mining operations has devastated Mankayan. It has taken its toll on the land, water and farms affecting not only Mankayan but also the downstream provinces of Abra and Ilocos Sur.

Sinking in recent years has rendered houses badly damaged and the water table lowered that vegetable farmers could not plant until the rainy season.

No assistance came from Lepanto except for stopgap measures which Diego described as "pang-kursunada laeng" (palliatives).

Diego also said that the Tohking exhaust pipes which LCMCo reopened recently in upper Mankayan emitted fumes from the underground tunnels.

This pollution is not controlled even with the scrubber machine that LCMCo installed to clean the fumes.

"Haan a mabalin, haanmi a kayat. Isardengda koma" (It won't work, we are against it. They should stop it), Diego said of Lepanto's expansion project fearing that the four town affected by the operations will be totally damaged if corporate mining operations is not halted.

Animals are reportedly dying or getting sick either from drinking the water from the tailings dam or from the exhaust tunnel's fumes.

"Inggana itatta ket laklak-amen mi dayta a problema" (We still suffer from this problem until now), Diego pointed out.

An alliance of communities living along the Abra River from Benguet down to Ilocos Sur called MAQUITACDG (which stands for Mankayan, Quirini, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo) supported Diego, saying that expanding Lepanto's operations will destroy the environment of several other towns aside from the four adjacent towns of Mankayan in Benguet, Quirino and Cervantes in Ilocos Sur and Tadian in Mountain Province.

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