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Mining crackdown starts in Itogon

Task force to blast, shut down tunnels after deadly landslides in Benguet town
/ 05:17 AM September 26, 2018

DANGER ZONE Areas spared by the Sept. 15 landslides in three sitios in the mining town of Itogon, Benguet province, have been declared a danger zone by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. RICHARD BALONGLONG

BAGUIO CITY — A week after landslides claimed the lives of 82 residents, many of them small-scale miners, in Itogon town, Benguet province, a task force on Tuesday said it would shut down illegal mine tunnels and arrest unlicensed pocket miners starting Oct. 1.

The crackdown would be conducted by the National Task Force Mining Challenge, a special unit formed by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu in February.

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The task force would blow up mine tunnels in danger of collapsing and block tunnels that were still in good condition, and charge their operators or workers with violating environmental laws.

Displacement

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Letters about the crackdown that would target “noncompliant” mines, whether corporate or pocket mines, were distributed to various agencies on Sept. 22, and were handed to members of Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners (BFSSM) on Monday.

But miners would be given time to voluntarily dismantle their own tunnels, said Fay Apil, Cordillera director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

Lomino Kaniteng, BFSSM president, said his group would comply but would seek a three-month grace period. The Benguet provincial board said it would need time to come up with new livelihood for the displaced miners.

Social workers asked the task force to reconsider the Oct. 1 deadline given that the affected residents were still grieving and had hardly recovered from the disaster.

Many houses spared from the landslides are located on unstable terrain, according to MGB geologists and engineers who surveyed Itogon on Sept. 20.

Danger zones

The landslides, the largest and deadliest of which dragged shanties and a bunkhouse at Sitio 070 in Barangay Ucab, were triggered by rains dumped by Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut) on Sept. 15, although the mountainsides were soaked by the weekslong monsoon rains in August.

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TUNNEL’S END Small-scale mining tunnels in Itogon, like this at Barangay Ucab, will be shut down by a government task force next month. —RICHARD BALONGLONG

On Sept. 23, Mayor Victorio Palangdan, accompanied by policemen, visited Sitio 070 and Firstgate in Ucab and Sitio Luneta in Barangay Loacan to evict families who returned home after Ompong left the country.

They were told that their communities had been declared danger zones and that they would have to look for new homes.

Ucab and Loacan can be reached after a 30-minute drive from Baguio City. On foot from the Ucab barangay hall, people would need to hike for 30 minutes to reach their homes at Sitios Firstgate and 070.

The most prominent erosion at Sitio 070 may have been triggered by a river tributary that the MGB team observed was “flowing toward the toe of the landslide,” according to an MGB assessment report.

The team said water flow from the creek could have contributed to “the present geological shape of the landslides.”

Some houses are atop the landslide areas, which, the MGB team said, could move once more due to heavy rain. The team observed what it called “tension cracks,” which, it said, were manifestations that surface soil may fall or slide due to the weight. —With a report from Karlston Lapniten

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TAGS: Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners, DENR, Itogon landslide, mining taskforce, National Task Force Mining Challenge, Roy Cimatu, Victorio Palangdan
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