Mankayan Awaits Worse Tragedy

Northern Dispatch
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MANKAYAN, Benguet – It is business as usual for Fatima (not her real name) who has just heard about the declaration of a ten-hectare area along Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion here, as a danger zone.

School children are still attending classes regularly except on days when they have to listen to the chimes from the Roman Catholic Church bells that would signal a no-class day due to dangers from heavy rainfall.

No one has told them that the area has been officially declared a danger zone, but the danger glares at the sight of the ground subsidence in Aurora and evident cracks on the ground in other parts of the town.

Recently, the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-MGB) declared the sinking area in Mankayan a “danger zone.” The MGB officially pronounced Mankayan as “highly susceptible to landslides.”

Obviously speechless upon learning about the declaration, Fatima, 28, could not help but worry anticipating an inevitable closure of her shop, which caters mainly to students of both the Mankayan National High School (MNHS) and the Mankayan Central School (MCS).

“If the schools are no longer there, I will have no more customers. I will lose my source of livelihood,” a sad Fatima told Nordis in an interview Thursday.

Folk Reaction

Fatima appeared evading the fact that everyone has to go once the municipal and provincial government officials ordered an evacuation of all residents and the demolition of buildings and houses within the ten-hectare danger zone.

The danger zone includes all places from the MNHS/MCS compound down to the settlements behind the business center from Aurora Street to Guiwe Street in Poblacion, as engineer Vergel Aniceto gleaned from the map provided by the MGB of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Only the town hall is spared from the said area, despite evident cracks just below it due to its sinking in the early ’90s.

“Sufficient buffer has been included to protect residents,” said MGB Regional Director Samuel Paragas, during a press conference in Baguio City Monday.

Fatima is the eldest among five siblings of a Mountain Province native couple who came to this town to work in the mines in 1985. With her father already deceased and a mother teaching at a public school here, she manages a family business venture along Aurora Street after finishing college.

Like Fatima, Nena (not her real name) is a storekeeper, also in this town’s only business center near the town hall. She has built a house below the main road that she suspected might have been within the ten-hectare danger zone.

Nena readily blamed the mining operations, she described as irresponsible. “The company is to take the blame for that,” she said referring to Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC), which she said did not close the tunnels as it should have done.

Asked if she was willing to tear down her house in the event of a massive evacuation, Nena said the company should pay for the houses.

Transferring The Schools

First to be evacuated are the school facilities, but town officials are yet to see the funds for the inevitable transfer of the school premises, according to Mankayan Vice Mayor Paterno Dacanay, who was in the public forum Thursday at the Dangwa hall of the municipal building.

The town council here reportedly asked the Arroyo administration some P10 million for the transfer of the schools to a more permanent site. Three sites are being studied, including two sites in Barangay Tabio and an undisclosed area in another village.

Graduating high school students interviewed Thursday were saddened by the news of an enforced evacuation. They were also in the forum, “Speak out for truth, land, life and future: save Mankayan from further destruction.”

“If possible we do not like the site to be transferred because it would push students farther from the old school, but what can we do?” Novie Calapiao, 16, said.

“It is difficult to look for a suitable site and the government has no budget for that,” Calapiao added.

Another high school student Charmaine Nylle Cadangen, 15, is worried of the future. “Can we still graduate? What will happen to the lower years?” she asked. She worries also of the safety of the students while in the present school site.

Cadangen said students have to walk longer to school now that the road was cut.

Whose Responsibility?

Rezbond Apaoan, 17, aired the call for LCMC to take responsibility for the damages that the sinking disaster has brought on the people.

“It should help the local government by looking for an alternative site for the schools,” Apaoan said.

The MNHS Alumni Association condemned the perpetrators of the environmental destruction of Mankayan. In a statement read during the forum, the alumni group supported the call for an independent geological inquiry on the real cause of the Aurora sinking as it worries of a possible worse tragedy that await the present studentry.
“These areas were found out as earthquake fault lines, but could it be possible that these fault lines were aggravated by the mine tunnels underground that may have caused the sinking of the ground?” the MNHS alumni stated.

Storekeeper Nena, a settler from another Cordillera province trusted her intuition saying, “If Lepanto backfilled the tunnels properly, there would be no massive subsidence and there would be no danger posed on the residents.” She added the company should compensate the people for the damages.

As these developed, the LCMC remains silent on the tragedy. More than one month after the initial ground movement, it has not reached out to the media for its official statement, despite fingers pointing to its operations as the culprit.

Initially, upon the intervention of Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan, the LCMC obliged to de-water the dam that has formed below the sinking site through a process that uses water pressure to unclog a soft “dam” to prevent an imminent scouring of the earth. It also reportedly provided pipes to divert run-off water from the sinking site.

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