MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Lepanto - Shattering its Own Myth of Safe and Responsible Mining

Published by MAC on 2009-07-10
Source: Cordillera Peoples Alliance

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance is issuing this story, following the recent environmental disaster in Mankayan, Benguet. July 26, 2009 marks the 10th year since the massive sinking, landslide and ground subsidence in Colalo Mankayan. Ten years after in the same province, the sinking and subsidence takes place in another barangay. More than ever, residents fear for their lives, knowing that no one is safe in Mankayan.

Edna (*not her real name) is near tears. The sinking in Colalo, Mankayan in 1999 remains fresh and real in her memory—and so does the fear it caused her and her family. “Wherever I am—in my vegetable garden at work or being here in front of you today—I am never at peace knowing that anytime, another disaster will happen. I think of my children who are now in school. What if the ground will suddenly collapse and sink again, like it did last June 5?”

In a press conference and briefing before the media, residents of Mankayan conveyed how the massive and disastrous ground subsidence on June 5, 2009 in Brgy. Poblacion, Mankayan, had affected their daily lives— and how Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s (LCMC) underground bulk mining remains responsible for the environmental disasters in the said northern municipality of Benguet due to over 73 years of corporate mining. Ten years ago in Barangay Colalo, also in Mankayan, the management of LCMC simply dismissed the massive sinking and landslides as “an act of God.”

Ground subsidence and sinking in Mankayan was first observed by residents as early as 1972, in two sites: the Mankayan Central School and along the Magumbang Creek both in Barangay Poblacion. Other sites that were reported to have sunk included areas of the Mankayan National Highschool and a large portion of Aurora Street. Copper and gold deposits were mined under these areas from 1969 to 1995. As early as this time, Lepanto’s underground blasting along Upper Tram, Stopes 35GH and 30 H of Level 1100 and Level 1070, was suspected as one of the causes of subsidence.

LCMC started to operate in Mankayan in 1936. But as early as 1850, the colonial authorities in Manila sent a mining engineer to Mankayan to examine the Igorot’s copper mines therein. Seventy-one troops accompanied the engineer. In 1856, launch the operations of the Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan with 120 Chinese immigrant workers and a Mexican smelter. Bearing high grade ore, Mankayan, from the onset, was a mining haven.

Remembering Colalo

Residents observed prominent cracks above the LCMC’s quarry site for Tailings Dam 5A at Colalo Proper on July 21, 1999. The quarry site was where land was dug out of Colalo and Cabiten barangays for the dam crest of Tailings Dam 5A. The said tailings dam was constructed between the two barangays. The cracks were noticed at farms above the quarrying site, near the Colalo Elementary School and along the Mankayan-Cervantes National Road. Sensing danger, barangay officials requested LCMC to observe the cracks but the company ignored this request.

LCMC was allowed to build Tailings Dam 5A right at the middle of two villages, where people live. The tailings dam catches hazardous substances from the mine operations.

On July 25, people started to evacuate from their homes to safer grounds. School facilities were transported as well. The barangay council and the Parents-Teachers Association decided to suspend classes to ensure the children’s safety. The following day, July 26, a large portion of Colalo Proper above the quarry site sunk and eroded, totally damaging the elementary school, four homes, a portion of the road, several farms and orchards and other improvements. The sinking affected at least 10 hectares of land. Local resident Pablo Gomez, 36 years old, married and with five children, was buried alive while transporting school facilities to higher ground. Residents immediately searched for Gomez for over a week, but Gomez’ body was never found. On August 8, a symbolic “burial service” was conducted for Gomez.

On the same month, then Congressman Ronald Cosalan initiated an inquiry through the Congressional Committee on Environment. Here, barangay officials and residents attested that the sinking and ground subsidence was due mainly to the mining activities of LCMC, and the construction of Tailings Dam 5A, which locals claimed to have made the land softer, thus more prone to erosion and slides.

The sinking went down by about 550 meters and by some 400 meters by Tailings Dam 5A, devastating some 14 hectares of land.

NIGS Independent Investigation

The National Institute of Geological Studies at the University of the Philippines was tapped to conduct an independent investigation on the Colalo sinking. The Institute’s findings stated that the sinking was due to manmade and natural causes, the natural causes being attributed to geological characteristics of the locality and the heavy rains. On the other hand, the Institute reported that mining activities have caused a rise in the water table elevation and the removal of basal support. The investigation corroborated the opinion of residents on the causes of the sinking. The Institute further stated in its findings that man-made causes, immediate of which is LCMC’s mining activities, caused the sinking and erosion” The removal of slope support is a natural consequence of underground mining which in turn can cause subsidence in any area.” The report added that mining “exacerbated the negative conditions already existent in the area.”

The NIGS investigation made several recommendations, including reopening of the abandoned or sealed tunnels of LCMC which lie below the Mankayan Central School, conduct of follow-up and detailed structural and geologic mapping of the subsidence area and monitoring of the subsidence rates, among others. The team of geologists requested copies of the underground maps from then Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna. No maps reached the team up to the time the report was written.

“Mankayan is Hollow”

Engr. Vergel Aniceto, spokesperson of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN), explained to local media how Mankayan had become hollow due to LCMC’s long years of underground bulk mining. “Bulk mining simply means open pit operations inside the mountains, which the company had not backfilled, contrary to its claims. Abra River is evidence to this, as it is heavy with siltation. Where else would the runoff and siltation come from?” he said.

He added further that, as per findings of the NIGS 10 years ago on the locality’s geological characteristics, MGB should already disallow further expansion and operations from Lepanto. “The rockbeds are slipping— they are not properly positioned. This should give MGB more reason to prohibit any more mining operations”, he said, adding that LCMC should already divulge its mine plan so that Mankayan residents will see for themselves and that proper and immediate relocation be carried out.

Former LCMC mineworker Vicente Dilem supported Aniceto’s explanation. “I have seen and worked in the underground operations, that is why I do not at all believe MGB’s claim that mining had nothing to do with the subsidence”, he said. Dilem explained how high technology loaders were used in Levels 1100 and 1050 to mine the high-grade copper in the company’s Victoria I project. When the world market for copper plunged, LCMC abandoned the un-backfilled underground operations.

“The un-backfilled stopes are exactly where the Mankayan National High School lies”, he said. To date, LCMC has remained mum about the June 5 sinking in Poblacion. Ironically, MGB has been on the defense, saying that mining is not to blame as it is not the sole cause of the sinking. Parallel to LCMC’s denial of any accountability to the disasters, MGB has maintained a record of consistently siding with the company and covering up for the former’s liabilities.

Mining and Militarization

Colalo Punong Barangay Ambino Padawi challenged the MGB to disclose the truth to the people of Mankayan, adding that one purpose of the deployment of the 50th Infantry Battalion in their hometown is to sow fear and terror to the people’s opposition. “The military must now be pulled out of Mankayan because it is not serving us any good,” he said.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the CPA have dialogued twice with the 50th IB in Bulalacao, together with the local elders, and LGUs, due to complaints made by local residents on human rights violations and the harassment and intimidation of MAQUITACDG organizers in the area.

Even the regional office of government’s Commission on Human Rights present in one of the dialogues stated that the 50th IB’s mere presence in the area is militarization, and that it must immediately vacate the Barangay Day Care Center where its troops were staying.

Residents reported that soldiers have been conducting surveys with questionnaires asking if they belong to any organization like the CPA, and which partylists have they voted for in the past elections. During these “surveys”, troops were in full battle gear causing fear among the people. In several incidents, the 50th IBPA aggressively took videos and photos of their suspected members and supporters of the CPA. The 50th IBPA did not deny their taking of videos and photos of the residents. A certain Sgt. Macasiray even confidently admitted that the taking of video or photos of the residents is legal under the Human Security Act and such shall be used for the filing of future charges under the said law.

In the month of May, the 50th IB conducted film showings in different areas, which maliciously labels, tags and demonizes progressive, legitimate and legal organizations and party lists, the CPA included, and its allied organizations as sectoral fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. In one brazen attack, elements of the 50th IBPA posted in Mankayan Poblacion “IBAGSAK ANG KILUSANG MAYO UNO, K-ILUSANG M-AGTATANGGAL SA
U-NG TRABAHO” during the May 1 celebration of the International Labor Day. Macasiray rationalized that their presence is part of their “Community Outreach Program (COP)”, which aims to bring the AFP near the hearts of the people by providing alleged socio-economic projects. The 50th IB is headed by Lt. Rashid Avila. It is the same military unit that terrorized in Pananuman, Tubo, Abra province from March to April 2008. The intense military activities—bombing, mortar shelling—resulted in economic
dislocation of the Maeng indigenous community, desecration of the dap-ay, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the summary execution of a senior citizen, Mariano Galisen.

CPA iterates the 50th IB’s immediate pullout from Mankayan—because wherever it is deployed, it will replicate and worsen what it did in Tubo, Abra. It will not think twice of wreaking havoc, hurting and killing people.

State of Calamity, Danger Zone

The sinking in Poblacion on June 5 had initially directly affected 10 households. Eight families were immediately evacuated. At least 10 meters had sunk near the premises of St. Joseph Parish and the main grounds of the Mankayan National Highschool. With the continuing sinking and landslides, the provincial government had declared the municipality in a state of calamity.

In 2000, other sinking areas included Tabak, Bulalacao and Sapid, while fissures yearly occur at the Mankayan-Cervantes Road. In April 2009, a portion of the slaughter house in Brgy. Poblacion sunk after fissures gradually formed.

LCMC was even in hot waters recently because of the asbestos dumping from its head office in Makati in Brgy. Sapid, as early as 2007.

Mankayan Mayor Manalo Galuten had the asbestos waste tested for chemicals, and was found to contain the cancer-causing chemical amosite, which causes the cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma affects the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart. Galuten lamented that after LCMC had dug their mountains for gold, the company backfilled it with hazardous substances.

LCMC’s brazen arrogance is highly condemnable. Are the people of Sapid any less different such that LCMC can just turn their village into a dump site?

Enough of the Disasters, Save Mankayan

Lepanto and the MGB have attributed the environmental calamities to naturally occurring events such as movements of fault lines and even heaven’s will, but the people of Mankayan know for a fact that it is the years of underground bulk mining that has caused the land subsidence and sinking, and these are only hastened by natural phenomena such as strong rains and typhoons. LCMC and MGB posture as if they have a monopoly of the scientific explanations. As a matter of fact, MGB and LCMC are running out of arguments that they have resorted to claiming that the disasters are an “act of God.” The more that Lepanto and MGB defend themselves, the more they expose their desperation to cover up their accountability to the disasters.

A culture of impunity pervades in relation to the human rights violations and environmental disasters LCMC is responsible of, that as if it is immune from penalty. MGB has served as Lepanto’s mouthpiece every time a disaster happens—an act that shows its effort to cover up its liabilities for the Mankayan environmental disasters. It is actually high time for MGB to be evaluated of its duties and functions, especially since it has allowed the environmental disasters to happen in Mankayan, even if it already knows the geological nature of the locality. Mankayan is not an isolated case. Only last year, a horrendous landslide happened in Itogon, Benguet due to the prolonged open pit and underground mining operations of Benguet corporation. In other regions, environmental disasters have also taken place as a result: Rapu-rapu where Lafayette operated in 2005, and in Marinduque where Marcopper created the country’s latest mining disaster, in 1996.

CPA appeals for urgent action to the local governments of Mankayan and Benguet, other sectors and government line agencies to ensure that further catastrophe will not befall Mankayan. The security of the people of Mankayan is an urgent concern. Immediate humanitarian aid and response is needed, and we appeal to all individuals, organizations and sectors to help save Mankayan. While we appeal to the public for support to the people of Mankayan, we hold LCMC responsible for all the environmental disasters, the social cost of its operations, and the historic injustice to the ancestral land rights of Cordillera indigenous peoples due to its plunder and exploitation.

Lepanto shattered its own myth of safe and responsible mining. It is a classic case that proves the fallacy of an extractive industry like mining to socially responsible. Now, with LCMC and MGB’s accountabilities to the people of Mankayan, the only justice that can be done is to have the mining operations be put to a permanent stop, and let the people of Mankayan have prior use and management of their ancestral land and resources.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance Public Information Commission


A Familiar Disaster: In Benguet Town, the Ground Shakes and Houses Disappear

The sinking of portions of Mankayan town, in which at least five houses were destroyed, occurred despite warning signs. And many residents point to the decades-old mining in the area as the culprit in the disaster.

By LYN V. RAMO, Northern Dispatch -

20 June 2009

MANKAYAN, Benguet, the Philippines — Odellon Wallang and two of his children were inside their house along Aurora Street in this town at around 11:45 in the morning of June 5 when they were jolted by a loud crashing sound that he likened to a plane crash.

Wallang rushed to the window to see the whole mountainside going down. “I caught a glimpse of the tail of the mountain sliding down,” he told Nordis.

Immediately, he went out to warn his neighbors but only to find them packing, some already fleeing. Wallang returned to pick up his kids. By then, the trail to the main road of the town was already gone.

“I kicked the fence off, gathered my children and, not long after we left, our house went down,” Wallang said. He was still shaking, his voice quivering as he retold his close encounter with disaster.

Five other houses also collapsed, Wallang said. These belonged the families of Pedro Casaldo, Ben Asiong, Abdon Costian, Salvador Pacsayan and Gloria Ticuala. The last three were grade-school teachers of this town.

Last week’s disaster, which may have been triggered by the nonstop rain here two days before the area practically caved in, was just the latest in similar incidents here that many attribute to mining.

There has been major ground subsidence in the area over the years. The last occurred in 1999, when some 55 houses were pulled down by a landslide. Ticuala, one of the teachers, had actually left the place after the 1999 tragedy but returned here subsequently, only to suffer the same fate again.

Warning Signs

A teacher from the Lepanto National High School said a rip-rapped wall at the school had been bulging, indicating a weakening in the wall and warning of an impending collapse. “It was full of mud,” the teacher said.

Pablo Khayog Jr., principal of the Mankayan National High School, had noticed a tree inside the campus changed position. He said he even called the attention of town officials, in a letter he sent them in March.

“They did not bother to investigate. They could have done some mitigating measures,” Khayog told Nordis in an interview Wednesday.

The sinking occurred in the former site of the Mankayan Central School (MCS) to the Mankayan National School (MNHS) athletic oval. MCS is now inside the MNHS campus since it was displaced by a similar disaster in 1999.

The octagon-shaped canteen of the school and a portion of the athletic oval also collapsed, with more cracks evident on the ground just a few meters from the outdoor stage, prompting school and town officials to fence off the subsidence area and organize a 24-hour watch.

“We are closely monitoring the subsidence area. When it rains incessantly, classes would be suspended automatically,” Khayog said.

Not Blaming the Mines

In the absence of an independent investigation, town officials chose to refrain from stating that large-scale mining activities are responsible for the collapse of Aurora.

Residents, however, insisted that the abandoned and sealed underground tunnels may have already collapsed and may have triggered the disastrous ground movement.

NIGS, in its recommendations, mentioned the investigation into the competence of the alleged underground tunnels, which were last investigated in 1974. It also proposed a detailed structural and geologic mapping of the subsidence area, as well as monitoring of the rate of subsidence.

Relocation of residents and business establishments were also then recommended, underscoring consciousness-raising activities about the real threat to life and property.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the environment department, in a June 11 report, pointed to fault lines traversing the area of subsidence as evidenced by the nature of landslide materials composed almost wholly of soil and crushed rocks.

The MGB report described the June 5 incident as a major landslide measuring about 44.4 meters wide and some 20 meters deep, which caused the temporary damming of Casibugan Creek below the school site.

Residents, however, said the ground movement was a subsidence, not a landslide. “If it was a landslide, the earth mass could have gone to the other side,” said Wallang, who is also the vice-chairman of the security union of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company. “The place just collapsed.”

MGB recommended that water runoff be diverted from the slide area; the tension cracks “sealed” even with clay to prevent water seepage; buildings be demolished; rerouting of the road to Lepanto and the dammed water carefully removed to prevent flashfloods.

Independent Investigation

Some, however, believe that mining had something to do with the disaster.

Councilor William Mendoza said the council passed five resolutions in its emergency session Monday. One of these is the request for an independent investigation by groups other than the mining company and the government.

Wallang and other miners interviewed by Nordis along Aurora Street all point to the alleged underground copper mine tunnels Bonanza 1030 to 1070 reportedly abandoned when the company shifted to gold operations in the late 1980’s.

“Old miners tell us there are mine tunnels underneath,” one miner said.

An MNHS alumnus, Chester Tuazon, traced the very fast environmental deterioration of Mankayan, Sapid, Poblacion, Colalo and Poblacion, to the more than six-decade mining operations by Lepanto.

“Lepanto claims to be a model of responsible mining, but the devastation it has caused in Mankayan belies such claim,” said Tuazon, who is also a member of the local Anakbayan chapter. The company’s operations caused the sinking of many areas and the siltation of the Abra River from its tailings ponds upstream of the river, Tuazon said.

In a statement, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) said the erosion and continuous sinking in the community of Aurora Street, in Barangay Sapid, Mankayan is the latest and the worst case of land subsidence that has occurred in the municipality.

Lepanto and the MGB, it said, “attributed these environmental calamities to naturally occurring events such as movements of fault lines and even heaven’s will. But the indigenous communities
know for a fact that it is the years of underground bulk mining that has caused the land subsidence and sinking and these are only hastened by natural phenomena such as strong rains and typhoons.”

Previous Incidents

The National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines, in an investigation report it made on the Colalo lanslide in July 1999, had cited major subsidence threats in the Poblacion, Colalo and Sapid areas.

“The subsidence in Mankayan was initially reported by residents in 1972,” the NIGS report said, quoting a similar report in 1984.

MCS was one of the two subsidence sites cited in a NIGS report in 1976. The other is some 300 meters to its southwest along Magambang Creek. MNHS and a large part of Aurora Street were also reported to be sinking.

That year, NIGS observed some cracks running some 80 meters along Aurora Street. It also reported tilted railings, vertically translated trees, cracked foundations and the sagging rooftops of several houses. These are among the conspicuous pieces of evidence of the subsidence along said road, it said.


“People’s lives are in danger. They should vacate the place immediately,” Gov. Nestor B. Fongwan told officials here, referring to the remaining houses near the Aurora sinkhole in Barangay Sapid.

Fongwan, in a meeting with teachers, community leaders and town officials here Wednesday, advised Mankayan people to be on alert amid the continuing ground movement that can be aggravated by continuous downpour.

Fongwan said the town mayor should order the evacuation of all people living near the subsidence area.

Despite the fear of another collapse, MNHS students keep going to school. One of them, Novie Calapiao, 16, a volleyball athlete to the regional athletic meet, laments that the oval will no longer be there. “We will have no place for practice,” she said.

Jane Fagyan, also 16, said she could not give up MNHS to the sinkhole.

In the meantime, while government officials and private groups prepare to take steps to mitigate the effects of large-scale ground subsidence, landslides and erosion in the area, Lepanto continues its large-scale mining operations for gold. (Northern Dispatch /


Landslides, mining linked; firm denies charge

Philippine Daily Inquirer -

25 June 2009

BAGUIO CITY – Leftists and residents of a mining town in Benguet have blamed the expansion of mining operations for the collapse of school buildings there last week.

But officials of a mining firm said there was no basis to blame the firm’s operations for the landslides.

In a press conference here on Tuesday, members of the Benguet Mining Action Alert Network, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, and Episcopalian Church of the Philippines, former miners and residents of Mankayan, Benguet, called on the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. to cease its operations to prevent landslides in the area.

However, lawyer Benedicto Carantes, Lepanto legal counsel, disputed claims that the operations had caused the massive landslides.

“The mining operations have nothing to do with the landslides. The underground tunnel operation is 1,000 feet below the surface so it cannot affect the movement on the surface. The soil was weak and it was washed out due to heavy rains,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by telephone.

Carantes also said Lepanto geologists had downplayed claims that mining was the main cause of the slides. He said Lepanto welcomed an investigation to determine the landslides’ cause.

Xavier Akien, CPA vice chairman for internal affairs, said his group released mining alerts to international environmental groups so they could pressure Benguet’s government to ban the expansion of Lepanto’s operations.

He said the group would also bring the issue to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Fatal After-effects of Mining Worry Residents of Mining Towns

By LYN V. RAMO, Northern Dispatch, posted by Bulatlat -

27 June 2009

BAGUIO CITY — A woman in her 50’s could not help but cry at the thought that six of her nephews and nieces are facing imminent danger in Mankayan.

Janet Mayanggao, a resident of Colalo, Mankayan, Benguet, was among the locals who retold stories about incidents of sinking in the said mining town last week. A witness of how people scampered to safety in the 1999 collapse of the Colalo Elementary School, Mayanggao elaborated on how a mother feels about the sinking.

“When Colalo collapsed, it ’swallowed’ a man alive and he was never seen again,” Mayaggao said referring to the July 26, 1999 landslide that sent two million cubic meters of soil and debris into Mankayan River, a tributary of the Abra River.

A certain Pablo Gomez was buried alive in the incident.

The landslide also encroached into a portion of the tailings pond 5A of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC), according to a report of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines.

Acting on a request by then congressman Ronald Cosalan, the NIGS conducted a comprehensive geological study in the wake of the collapse of Colalo and, earlier in 1998, Aurora Street at Poblacion, Mankayan.

The same area that NIGS studied in August 1999 collapsed last June 5, haunting locals with fears of yet another subsidence as the rainy season sets in. (Subsidence is defined as sudden sinking or gradual downward settling of the Earth’s surface with little or no horizontal motion.)

Mayanggao has nephews and nieces living and studying near the Mankayan Central School (MCS) and the Mankayan National High School (MNHS).

“They are so young, they do not know yet how to protect themselves against danger,” she said, adding that small children even peer at the sinkhole with curiosity and fondness, unmindful of the danger.

With subsidence in mind, Mayanggao also worries of the possible collapse of economic activities of people in Mankayan. A typical mother, she worries that if people don’t get swallowed up first by giant pits underneath, they might lose their livelihood.

Besides mining, Mankayan residents live off planting at the mountainsides crops such as palay, corn, temperate vegetables and legumes. They also tend to farm animals while some raise fish in “fish terraces” and along riverbanks.

With the ground where they’re living and working now declared unstable, women like Mayanggao, a leader of the local Innabuyog-Gabriela chapter, feel vulnerable.

Speaking in her dialect, she said: “As mothers, we can’t help but keep worrying. How shall we live now? Where shall we resettle our families?”

Responding to miners’ testimonies that indeed, underground tunnels are crisscrossing Mankayan, youth representative Chester Tuazon of Anakbayan condemned Lepanto’s mining operations. Tuazon said Lepanto has contributed a lot in the degradation of the environment.

Former miners Martes Botil-e and Vicente Dilem testified to having seen the underground diggings that might cause the land above it to give way, causing the collapse of a big portion of the former site of MCS and MNHS along Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion.

The subsidence displaced at least eight families and threatened several other houses.

“We also condemn Lepanto’s denial that it has destroyed Mankayan and we hold the company accountable for this destruction,” Tuazon said.

Tuazon reiterated his earlier call for local government officials to seriously consider an impartial investigation into the Aurora sinking, including that of the Colalo area and other mining structures that are threatening the lives of Mankayan residents, as well as the environment. He mentioned the pollution of Abra River as a result of 65 years of LCMC’s operations.

Rev. Jonathan Obar of the Anglican Church, who has served Mankayan for 12 years, said even the religious sector, which should be viewed as partners in development, has been branded as going against the government when they spoke of the destruction in mining communities like Mankayan.

Others in the panel of discussants during the forum were Colalo Barangay Captain Ambino Padawi and Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice-chair Xavier Akien.

Padawi called for LCMC’s pullout amid the massive threat to the environment and people’s lives in the affected communities.(


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