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Volume 3,  Number 30              August 31 - September 6, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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From Bulk Mining to Bulk Water Project
Benguet Corp. in hot water over new venture

Benguet Corporation (BC), once the Orient’s largest gold mining firm, is ploughing its investment from bulk mining to bulk water project where the company expects to supply water to Baguio City and its environs. Ecological concerns have been raised, however.

By Lyn V. Ramo
Northern Dispatch Weekly
Posted by Bulatlat.com

BAGUIO CITY - The president and chief executive officer of erstwhile richest gold mine in the Orient is now looking for new opportunities, not only for income-generating, but also new projects and programs.

Benguet Corporation’s (BC) Benjamin Philip Romualdez admits that the mining industry is unstable, attributing that to the inferior method of mining, poor implementation of government policies as well as non-compliance with environmental laws.

Romualdez discloses that his company’s mission now will not only be limited to mining but also some other aspects of business ventures that will not destroy the environment. He says that BC’s attention is now geared at environmental concerns, in general.

The mining company is now looking into a bulk water supply project with the city government here as it prepares to participate in another bidding. Earlier in 1995, it lost in a bid for a water supply venture for Baguio’s residents.

BC’s proposal to supply water to the city, however, may have adverse effects on the local folks in the communities of Itogon.

Simplicio Sicuan, an elder in Tuding, Itogon and an officer of the Itogon Inter-barangay Alliance (IIB-A) revealed that the bulk water project will take away all the remaining water left from BC’s mining operations.

BC has allegedly applied for water rights on practically all water sources being tapped at present for domestic use in Itogon households, just a few kilometers from the city. Its plan is to put up a water reservoir at the open pit mine site in Antamok , a purifying plant in Barangay Tuding and distribution tanks in Ucab and Tuding. Some of the water will be distributed to Itogon households through the Itogon Water District and the rest diverted to Baguio.

Agbayadto ti umili iti danum a libre itatta” (People will have to pay for water which they are at present using freely), Sicuan said.

Environmentalists have always stated that large amounts of water taken out from the aquifers will cause the surrounding soil and rock formations to recede and thus may cause shrinkage in the landforms aboveground.

BC’s mining operations have depleted mining areas in Benguet of precious minerals, dried up water sources and have inflicted an irreversible damage to the fragile ecosystem. Its mining sites in Itogon have been abandoned as manifested in its sale of surface facilities such as offices, mills and bunkhouses.

Furthermore, the company has not maintained its road systems, and except for some contracted community miners in its Balatoc Mines, its mine sites have long been idle.

Its attempt to re-open its Acupan Mines last year was met by a series of protest actions by local communities. They put up a human barricade that lasted several months.

The BC’s bulk water project has not gained community approval save for some local government officials who assured the company that a community consultation would decide if it would be acceptable to the people.

BC just celebrated its 100th year on Aug. 12. It started its operations in Itogon at the turn of the 20th century and has since been among the top-producing gold-mining companies in the world. It boasts of contributing some P4.7 billion in taxes and around P2.6 billion in environmental support.

BC’s open pit mining project, the Grand Antamok Project, in Barangay (village) Loacan remained an environmental hazard even after it was officially closed in 1998. The pit is a deep pool of mining effluents from Luneta community above it. Muckwaste continue to flow into the river system despite assurance from BC’s spokespersons before that it would find ways to “rebuild and bring back the people’s mountain.” The mill is a monstrous junk yard which looks equally hazardous not only due to the possible toxic effects on the low-lying agricultural lands in Poblacion barangay but also of the metal oxides the abandonment may have caused. GAP’s tailing pond keeps on overflowing with toxins during rainy days, and the threat of its eventual collapse still haunts communities below it.

BC’s Balatoc operations today do not have any tailings pond to contain its waste. It is the subject of a clamor for investigation following complaints that Itogon fishponds were affected by mine tailings.

Other open pit mine sites, such as the CalHorr in Virac and the Sto. Mine in Tublay remain devoid of perennial vegetation except for some sunflower and sayote, respectively.

While it is true that the city and suburbs need water for a tourism industry the government has been grooming all these years, BC’s proposal to take water out of Itogon is in hot water. With reports from Joseph Cabanes /DzEQ/Nordis/Posted by Bulatlat.com

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