MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippine mining company blamed for worker's tragedy

Published by MAC on 2008-09-29

Hopes are fading that fourteen miners trapped underground in a mine in Itogon - the Philippines Cordillera region - will have survived.

The disaster occurred only a fortnight after 24 people were crushed to death in a similar landslide elsewhere in the country. See:

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance has placed the blame for the Itogon tragedy squarely on the Benguet Corporation.

The Itogon Landslide: A Result of Prolonged Large Mining Operations

25th September 2008

CPA Statement

There is much for Benguet Corporation (BC) to account for in the horrendous disaster in Itogon that severely affected the lives of local residents from 80 households in the indigenous community of Beda, and in Antamok last September 22. Putting the blame solely on natural calamities like Typhoon Nina and small-scale mining as done by BC, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is both lame and weak, when we know for a fact that BC's socially and environmentally destructive large mining operations since 1903 is to answer for the disaster.

What had happened in Itogon already happened in Colalo, Mankayan in July 1999, where Lepanto Mining has operated for the past 72 years in massive underground operations which softened and weakened Colalo grounds, such that any typhoon can aggravate a disaster waiting to happen.

The 14 miners trapped must be immediately rescued, because BC is accountable for this and to the families. Their effort to rescue is the least they can do and it must not cover up their responsibility and accountability in the whole disaster---the killings or loss of lives, the environmental disaster, displacement of the families and the demolished/ ili/ that will never be built again. What future awaits the displaced families who have lost their loved ones, their home and ili? Is BC going to pay for the long term effects of its destructive operations? As do other mining companies, BC will resort to a media blitz of corporate responsibility thru technical assistance to the victims. That however, is not long term solution but a cover up of the real situation.

THIS is what happened in Itogon. The environment, the mountains should never have been disturbed in the first place. The mining disasters in Rapu-Rapu where Lafayette Mines operated since 2005 and in Marinduque, where Marcopper created the country's largest mining disaster in 1996 prove that the Itogon landslide is not an isolated, naturally occurring incident.

This as well is the very nature of large and corporate mining---DANGEROUS and UNSAFE, and the companies' claim of any social responsibility is not a commitment of restoring the environmental, economic and social damages loss they have committed. There will always be environmental and social disasters in areas of large mining operations in the same manner that there will always be militarization and human rights violations also therein, as long as the mining policies of the Arroyo administration are based on the Mining Act of 1995 or RA 7942. We have no hope of any sort from the DENR, when it is DENR Secretary Lito Atienza himself who serves as the company's spokesperson, when it said blame should not be put on the company, especially in the case of the 14 miners trapped underground. What kind of public official puts last the interest of the public it should be serving?

We call on the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Commission on Human Rights (CHR-CAR), including the municipal and provincial governments to look into the interest and welfare of the Itogon community---both those directly and indirectly affected. The provincial government must decisively act to put a stop to such disasters, for environmental protection and socio-cultural preservation by placing a ban or moratorium to large mining operations in the province. Otherwise, there will soon be no Benguet province to speak of in the future---only a wasteland of mine waste and abandoned communities.

The historical injustice done to the Ibaloi and Kankanaey in Itogon as a result of development aggression---large and destructive mining, in particular must be corrected. This shall emanate from the concerted action of the people of Itogon to aggressively resist and oppose large and destructive mining operations therein, and to reject impending threats from various applications. Otherwise, there will be always be a disaster waiting to happen, hastened by natural calamities. Other Cordillera provinces, especially those threatened by large and destructive mining operations and overlapping applications, must unite and be vigilant and resist these to defend the Cordillera homeland from further plunder and destruction.

Benguet Corporation, including Philex and Lepanto must be accountable for the environmental and social damages they have caused in indigenous communities in Benguet. An independent investigation that will not again be another case of impunity must be urgently carried out. Reference: Windel Bolinget, CPA Secretary General

Rescuers find 3 miners' bodies in tunnel

By Elmer Kristian Dauigoy

Amy R. Remo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

26th September 2008

ITOGON, BENGUET---Rescuers' hopes of finding a group of trapped miners alive were dashed Thursday with the discovery of three bodies in a flooded underground tunnel.

The number of trapped miners was raised from 14 to 16 after it was found that two others had also entered the Antamok tunnel owned by Benguet Corp. on Monday as Typhoon "Nina" (international codename: Hagupit) crossed the Cordillera mountain range.

A team composed of 15 to 20 local miners found the bodies at 3:30 p.m. in Shaft 114, about 270 feet from the tunnel opening, said Fred Jacinto, a former president of the Gold Field Saranay Community Miners Association Inc.

He said the bodies had yet to be identified.

Another team of rescuers, all from Baguio City, entered the tunnel at about 3 p.m. They emerged empty-handed after 20 minutes, as the first team was still trying to pull out the bodies using ropes.

As of 4:30 p.m., the bodies had yet to be brought out of the tunnel.

Teams from the Philippine National Red Cross and Baguio City's 911 rescue group were on standby to help in the search and rescue efforts.

Continued search

Jacinto said the bodies surfaced when the floodwaters in the tunnel receded.

"We will continue searching for the others," he said.

The tunnel and its branches were flooded on Tuesday when a landslide at the other side of the mountain in the Antamok area diverted creek water down to the depths.

George Baywong, an engineer of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau's mine environment and safety division and the coordinator of rescue efforts, said the number of trapped miners rose to 16 because two others---Ngitit Pagulayan and Jose Panio Jr.---were found to have also entered the tunnel on Monday

Based on the small-scale miners' work logbook, the trapped men are Robert Buway of Itogon; Gilbert Nattem, Rudy Boling Jr. and Jerry Munyobda of Ifugao; Garry Ganu and Joel Bulga of Quirino; and Mario and Joseph Anayasan.

The others are Jayson, Rudy, Jojo, Juan, Marvin and Vincent, all surnamed Himmayod, of Quirino.

*'No working zone'*

In Manila, Benguet Corp. disclaimed negligence in the maintenance of its mines, whether working or abandoned.

Reynaldo P. Mendoza, Benguet's senior vice president for legal matters, Thursday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Level 700 of the Antamok mine in which the miners were trapped had been treated as a "no working zone" because operations there had been suspended since 1993.

Mendoza said that on top of putting grills on the tunnels to close off the Level 700 area, Benguet Corp. had also deployed security to regularly patrol the mine and guard it against illegal small-scale miners.

He said the company had also long issued notices or warnings strictly prohibiting any mining activity in the tunnels.

"If they have removed the grills and sneaked inside the tunnels without our knowledge, and by escaping the attention of our security, it's really risky. [And] illegal," he said.

According to Mendoza, the tunnels in the mine's lower levels are old, unused drainage tunnels where water naturally flows through, especially every time it rains.


Since the mining firm had long shut down its operations there, the ventilation system in the tunnels is no longer operational, Mendoza said.

"Without that ventilation, even if it is not raining, people may suffocate in there since there are natural gas emissions within the tunnels, such as those coming from decaying wood," he said, adding:

"That mine needs to be rehabilitated first before anyone can work there."

Nevertheless, the company still conducts regular checks in the mine, he said.

Mendoza also said it had likewise suspended all large-scale mining activities in the upper level of the Antamok mine---or Level 400---since January.

Benguet Corp., however, continues to accommodate legitimate small-scale miners in affected mining communities for their livelihood, he said.

And even if the company has suspended its operations in Level 400, it continues to provide security and regular safety inspections in compliance with the requirements of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Mendoza said.

Since Tuesday, Benguet and Philex Mining Corp. have been actively participating in the rescue of the trapped miners.

MGB on the spot

The Alyansa Tigil Mina, an anti-mining organization, took the MGB to task over the tragedy.

"Is the MGB unable to monitor any mine, working or abandoned? Is it unable to secure the welfare of the people who live and work around these sites?" Terence Osorio, the group's coordinator, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said the small-scale miners had "illegally entered" the tunnel without the knowledge of Benguet Corp.

But Osorio said it was common knowledge that the miners of Itogon made their living in the tunnel "abandoned but still controlled" by Benguet Corp.

"Since the area's small miners are unable to obtain access to these places legally or to set up their own Minahang Bayan due to Benguet's ownership, they eke out a living in what Benguet left behind," he said.

Dirty 7

Osorio said the MGB had failed to clean up or rehabilitate seven major abandoned mine sites, collectively called "The Dirty Seven" for their high levels of pollution.

For instance, the Bagacay Mine in Eastern Samar, which was abandoned in 1992 and found by the MGB in 2005 to have a buildup of acid mine drainage, has not been cleaned up until now, he said.

"How can we trust the MGB to do anything correctly when it fails [to do] so publicly? It cannot safeguard communities in geohazard areas, nor can it secure abandoned mines or hold companies responsible for their rehabilitation," Osorio said.

And yet, the government allows this agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to not only set the standards for mining operations but also to encourage mining in the country, he said.

"The MGB has not shown that it has the resources or even the willpower to conduct its regulatory functions of mining in the Philippines, and it is jeopardizing the safety of Filipinos across the nation," he also said.

MGB officials could not be reached for comment because they were attending the House hearing on the environment department's proposed budget for 2009.

With a report from TJ Burgonio

Benguet Corp told to secure abandoned mine from poachers

26th September 2008

MANILA, Philippines --- Environment Secretary Lito Atienza on Friday said Benguet Corp. could be held liable if it is found to have violated its mining permit when it allowed mining operations in its abandoned tunnels in Itogon, Benguet.

Atienza ordered Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Horacio Ramos to investigate after 16 "illegal" miners were trapped earlier this week inside the abandoned tunnels.

"I have directed the MGB director to also see to it that Benguet Corp. will take stricter action to stop illegal mining in its areas," Atienza told reporters.

"The mining company has the full control of its premises, as stipulated in its mining permit," he added.

Reports have said that the miners, who remain trapped in the tunnel, have "illegally entered" the mine site. The miners were not employees or workers of the mining firm.

Still, Atienza said Benguet Corp. is responsible for ensuring that the abandoned mine remains closed, as he noted further that the mining firm is responsible for its cleanup.

"The mining company should put up more effective measures to stop this illegal activity in its mining premises... prevent the conduct of mining in abandoned mines," Atienza said.

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