Enforce ban on pocket mining, Cimatu orders
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Monday ordered the police and military to enforce a ban on pocket mining in Cordillera after landslides killed 35 small-scale miners and members of their families in Itogon town, Benguet province, at the height of Typhoon “Ompong” on Saturday.
President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking at a situation briefing here on Monday, repeated his call to shut down all mines in the country following the deadly landslides.
Cimatu gave the order after a massive landslide at Barangay Ucab in Itogon pulled down shanties, old bunkhouses and a chapel. The bunkhouses were once used by Benguet Corp.
The fatalities were miners and members of their families who had taken shelter in the area from Ompong’s winds and rains.
Around 40 people remained missing as landslides also struck Loacan, Virac and Ampucao villages and the poblacion in Itogon.
Hundreds of rescuers using shovels and picks were searching in the red mud for those still missing. On Monday, two bodies and body parts belonging to a third fatality were recovered.
Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said at a news conference that of the 40 people thought buried, there’s a “99 percent [chance] that they really are all dead.” Ompong has killed at least 65 people in the country.
Total ban in Cordillera
Cimatu also canceled temporary small-scale mining permits and imposed a total ban on illegal mining in Cordillera.
“I learned that most of the pocket miners were not from Benguet but from Ifugao. So we sent them back to their province,” he said.
Informed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) that 10 mining operations had been given temporary small-scale mining contracts, Cimatu added: “By virtue of what happened, I am revoking those permits effective today.”
The ban covers about 10,000 small-scale miners in Itogon town.
Suspended for now
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque explained Cimatu’s order to mean that all small-scale mining operations would be suspended and those with permits would have their permits suspended for now.
At the situation briefing here, President Duterte blamed mining and the “inroads of civilization” for the landslides.
“If I were to try to do my thing, I will close all mining in the Philippines,” the President said.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said illegal small-scale mining “does not employ the same stringent safety practices required of legitimate large-scale mining operations.”
Member companies of COMP that have permits in Cordillera include Benguet Corp., Philex Mining Corp. and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co.
Officials have said that gold mines tunneled by big mining companies or by unauthorized individuals and small outfits have made the hillsides unstable and more prone to landslides.
Tens of thousands of small-time miners from the lowlands have established communities in high-risk areas like the foothills of Itogon.
Area declared geohazard
Benguet Corp. said it had issued “numerous notices to small-scale miners to vacate the area since the 1990s” after the MGB declared the area a geohazard. The mining company has stopped its operations in the area since the late 1990s.
Cimatu said a “Minahang Bayan” (People’s Mines) must first be established in Benguet before small-scale mining could resume.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has yet to act on proposed sites for Minahang Bayan, including an idle open-pit mine in Benguet.
Cimatu’s decision has alarmed Benguet officials since thousands of families rely on pocket mining.
Mayor Palangdan asked for a meeting with the DENR secretary to help choose viable areas for Minahang Bayan.
Benguet Gov. Crescencio Pacalso said he would have to convene various agencies to determine how to deal with the loss of livelihood.
Roque said the government would provide alternative income opportunities for the small-scale miners to be affected.
At the Cordillera police headquarters in Camp Dangwa, officials told Francis Tolentino, President Duterte’s political adviser, that they were keeping a close watch on the topside of the Ucab landslide because of concerns the rest of the hill would give way.
An abandoned tunnel of an old mine lies beneath the area that collapsed, according to Mayor Palangdan.
A total of 145 families were evacuated from erosion-prone areas of Itogon on Monday, adding to the 78 families who heeded a directive to leave the hill before Ompong struck, said Janet Armas, Cordillera director of the DSWD.
She said the DSWD would provide assistance to the families who would lose their livelihood due to Cimatu’s order. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Karl R. Ocampo and the wires
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