In the wake of the disaster that claimed six miners, a Benguet Corporation (BC) top executive said on Oct. 3 that the company would be closing down all entries to the Antamok underground mines below Level 400.
BY LYN V. RAMO
Posted by Bulatlat
BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) — In the wake of the disaster that claimed six miners, a Benguet Corporation (BC) top executive said on Oct. 3 that the company would be closing down all entries to the Antamok underground mines below Level 400.
“These are no longer safe for human occupancy,” said BC General Manager for Operations Isabelo Velez.
The collapse of a portion of the twin diversion tunnels that used to divert river flow of the Antamok River in nearby Itogon, Benguet trapped 16 miners for at least seven days after typhoon “Nina” lashed out at the mining town on Sept. 22.
Level 700, where most of the miners were rescued, is a drainage tunnel, according to Velez. He dismissed speculations that the tunnels were flooded due to a collapsed structure that blocked the water flow from the river.
Velez appeared before a press conference at the office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) here after Regional Director Neoman dela Cruz ordered the temporary suspension of search and rescue operations at BC’s Antamok Goldfield (ASGF) portal.
Velez said the underground mines have long been closed to miners following a bogged-down negotiation for the production-sharing scheme. He insinuated the trapped miners entered the mines with no permit and are operating illegally.
Contract mining scheme
Antamok Mines was earlier contracted for small-scale mining activities with local miners paying a P15 daily entrance fee. When the one-year contract with the Spanish Empire Pocket Miners Association (SEPMAI) lapsed, the company reportedly negotiated for a 60-40 sharing scheme in favor of the miners. Miners, however, wanted a 90-10 scheme to which BC tendered a counter-proposal of 80-20.
By closing the tunnels, Velez said the company meant to prohibit small-scale miners from working below Level 400. AGF is Level 430, while the open pit site is Level 440.
Besides Antamok, BC has contract mining agreements with many other small scale mining groups in Acupan, in Barangay (village) Virac, also in Itogon. The Acupan mines is Level 1500.
Velez said the sharing scheme in Acupan is 60-40.
Unsafe, unfair for miners
Vergil Aniceto, a former BC underground miner, said it is too unsafe for miners to work inside BC tunnels now that the company could not maintain its facilities and could not even ensure their security.
Aniceto points to the collapse of the twin diversion tunnels as the cause of the landslide that left some 80 families homeless at the height of typhoon “Nina”.
As spokesperson of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN), Aniceto earlier blamed lax government policies for the mining disaster. He said the rehabilitation of the abandoned mines was not done but government could not even go after BC now that the anticipated disastrous impacts of mining have started to “trickle down” on the local folk.
As this developed, Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan asked for a thorough investigation to look into the cause of the disaster that almost claimed the lives of all 16 trapped miners.
In a press conference on Oct. 3, MGB announced it is currently conducting an investigation to determine who must be held liable for the operation of the mine tunnel where 16 miners were trapped on Sept. 22.
De la Cruz told reporters the investigation was the result of a directive from Environment Secretary Lito Atienza.
Atienza has reportedly directed MGB National Director Horacio Ramos to closely monitor the investigation.
Velez welcomes the investigation but opted for “cooperation in getting into the core of the incident.” Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat.com