MANILA — Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate filed a House Resolution today asking the Committee of Natural Resources to investigate the liability of Benguet Corporation and Apo-Cemex, respectively, in the recent landslide disasters in Itogon, Benguet and Naga City, Cebu. Supporting him were members of the environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). To date, the said landslides have killed at least 167.
Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, explained the urgency of probing the accountability to those disasters of Benguet Corp. and Apo-Cemex. “We must investigate how these extractives were allowed to acquire, operate, and abandon tenements in geologically hazardous areas without sufficient risk-mitigating measures,” he said.
In the aftermath of the Naga City landslide, President Duterte exonerated the quarrying firm Apo Cemex. He blamed the disaster solely on excessive rains. Various officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have also denied that mining were significant factors in the two landslide incidents.
But realities on the ground suggest that the Duterte government and the mining and quarrying companies cannot solely blame the tragedy on excessive rainfall or small-scale miners. Dulce said Apo Cemex went on quarrying even though the residents had reported observing cracks and fissures in the slopes months before the landslide occurred.
Dulce slammed Benguet Corp. for having put in danger the lives of families and small-scale miners. Citing the Benguet Corporation – Acupan Contract Mining Project, Dulce said Benguet Corp allowed the small-scale miners to mine its hazardous abandoned mine areas in exchange for 30% share of the gold output from Benguet Corp’s hazardous abandoned mine areas. ” Under this outsourcing scheme, “Benguet Corp does not have to spend for the salaries, safety equipment, shelter, and hazard pay of the small scale miners while it reaps 70% of the gold mined.”
Benguet Corp’s lengthenng list of known sins
The recent killer landslide in Benguet is not the first mining disaster from the mining company. In 2009, its abandoned tunnels collapsed during Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 and again during Typhoon Lando in 2015. It has spilled mine waste in 2016 and again just August this year.
“Benguet Corp’s Antamok mine contracting project was in fact suspended and ordered to expedite mine rehabilitation by former environment secretary Regina Lopez early in 2017. No less than the Office of the President itself was responsible for staying this order for more than a year up until the disaster happened,” explained Dulce.
In Naga, local Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) officials reportedly recommended to the Naga City mayor that Apo Cemex’s mountainside quarrying operations be allowed to continue despite the residents’ concerns, and despite MGB’s own landslide hazard maps of Naga City showing the area’s high susceptibility to landslides.
Dulce said other quarrying firms have also figured in various disasters this year, like mudslides and flashfloods experienced by downstream communities in Marikina and other parts of Metro Manila during the Habagat rains that struck last August.
“Quarrying in Rizal province contributed to flooding and mudslides by removing vegetation and trees along slopes and rendering these slopes vulnerable to erosion by the excessive rains,” Dulce said.
In the House Inquiry submitted to Congress that the The House inquiry must also seriously look into the repeated promises of President Duterte of closing the big mines and repealing the Mining Act of 1995.
“Duterte keeps claiming he cannot do anything about the current disastrous mining policy despite his so-called’ super majority in Congress. The Mining Act’s promotion of irresponsible mining especially in light of recent disasters must be investigated once and for all,” said Dulce.