ILOILO CITY—The Department of Energy (DOE) has allowed the Semirara Mining Company (SMC) to conduct preparatory activities for the resumption of mining operations even as the search continues for five missing workers buried alive in last month’s landslide at the Panian open mine pit on Semirara Island in Antique.
Energy Undersecretary Ramon Allan Oca said the preparatory and safety measures that were approved on Tuesday would be conducted at the northern area of the 360-hectare Panian pit.
The northern area is 300 to 400 meters from the western wall of the pit where 10 workers were buried after parts of a retaining wall collapsed on Feb. 13. Aside from the missing, five workers are confirmed dead and three others survived.
Oca said the extraction operations at the landslide area remained suspended, and search and retrieval operations for the bodies of the missing are continuing.
“It is such a big area and it is naturally hard to find and recover the bodies,” Oca told the Inquirer.
Company and energy officials earlier said that the landslide dumped at least 600,000 cubic meters (around 13,000 dump trucks) of soil on the workers who were operating heavy equipment at the bottom of the pit. Several succeeding landslides have hampered recovery operations.
Oca said the DOE approved on Tuesday the request of SMC to conduct preparatory activities in the northern area of the pit. These would involve clearing of rocks and other materials and the installation of safety measures.
The preparatory activities are expected to last 40 to 60 days.
“No extraction activities will be allowed until we have determined that adequate safety measures are in place,” said Oca.
SMC officials did not respond to repeated text messages and calls of the Inquirer requesting for comment.
Oca said the decision to allow the possible resumption of extraction of coal in another area was to ensure that the supply of coal to SMC’s customers will not be disrupted.
SMC has a buffer stock of at least 1.2 metric tons of coal when the extraction operations were suspended following the landslide.
SMC supplies 7 million metric tons of coal annually or 94 percent of locally produced coal. Of this volume, 2.2 million MT is exported while 4.8 million MT is for the 600-megawatt Calaca power plant in Batangas and other users like cement factories.
Oca said the team that investigated the landslide is finalizing its report and recommendations on the cause of the accident and what measures to take to prevent it.
President Aquino earlier said that the operations of SMC would remain suspended until the safety of its mining site is assured.
Several workers of the mining company earlier told the Inquirer that company officials had ignored warnings of an imminent landslide at the western wall of the pit.
Top company officials, however, denied the allegations, saying that the landslide was unexpected and even workers tasked with ensuring the safety of the area were among the victims.