“Despite its claim of world-class mining operation, Benguet Corporation left permanent destruction and scars on the surface and beneath the earth.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – An indigenous group in northern Philippines lambasted the awarding of an environmental management certificate to the oldest and one of the biggest mining companies in the country, the Benguet Corporation which has operated in the region for more than a century.
The ISO 14001:2015 certification on Environment Management was granted last week to BenguetCorp. Nickel Mines Inc. (BNMI) and Benguet Gold Operations (BGO) by TÜV Rheinland, an international testing service provider based in Germany. BenguetCorp is the first mining company in the country whose operations were awarded the 2015 version of the ISO certificate, a report said.
The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) called the awarding of the certification “an insult to the environment and communities destroyed by Benguet Corp.”
“Despite its claim of world-class mining operation, Benguet Corporation left permanent destruction and scars on the surface and beneath the earth; caused rivers to become biologically dead and its mine wastes pose threats and concrete effects to people’s lives and communities,” said Santi Mero, CPA deputy secretary general.
The CPA said the ISO award overlooked BenguetCorp’s long record of environmental disasters in its century-long mining operations in the Cordillera region. The Benguet provincial government also threatened to sue the company for violation of the environmental compliance certificate, as, it said, BenguetCorp has not relocated the victims of the sinkhole incident last year.
Land and water subsidence
The CPA attributed a number of land and water subsidence to BenguetCorp’s underground tunneling, surface and open-pit mining.
The land subsidence, which occurred on October 22, 2015 in Virac village, Itogon town in Benguet province, is one such disaster, Mero said. The incident “is not an isolated case,” but a result of the company’s underground tunneling, he said.
“Benguet Corporation cannot just wash its hands on this disaster. Their long history of mining activities such as underground tunneling in the area is a hard fact that can explain the land subsidence,” Mero said.
The sinkhole swallowed six houses and displaced 166 residents. In the past decades, the Virac sinkhole had been preceded by various ground sinking in the company’s mining areas through the decades.
A few years back, residents of the same village had complained about BenguetCorp’s mining refinery, which, they said, had adversely affected their health.
Mero also cited the 1937 incident in Gumatdang, the oldest rice-producing village in Itogon, where BenguetCorp’s underground tunneling for the mining vein, Atok-Big Wedge, dried up the streams and irrigation canals. This was repeated in 1962, when the company dug up a drainage tunnel between its Kelly mine in Gumatdang and its mines in Antamok, which drained the sources of irrigation and dried up the rice fields.
“Today the residents of these communities suffer the lack of water supply. The water tables have subsided as deep mining tunnels and drainage tunnels disrupt groundwater paths. Tunneling often leads to a long-term lowering of the water table,” Mero said.
He added that the tunneling also resulted to denudation of the surrounding watershed. Worse, the various mining companies in the region had privatized water sources for their own huge consumption.
The group also blamed BenguetCorp for having “flattened the mountains of Antamok in Loacan village and Keystone in Ucab, Itogon thru its open-pit mining operation.”
“Open-pit mining is the most destructive, as it requires removing whole mountains and excavation of deep pits. Generally, open pits need to be very big – sometimes more than 2.5 kilometers long. In order to dig these giant holes, huge amounts of earth need to be moved, forests cleared, drainage systems diverted, and large amounts of dust let loose,” Mero said.