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Crude mining allowed in ComVal ‘for humanitarian reasons’

/ 09:29 PM April 28, 2011

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—An official of the town of Pantukan in Compostela Valley admitted here Thursday that it allowed small-time miners to operate in Barangay Kingking even though the area had been identified as prone to landslides “for humanitarian reasons.”

Thirteen people were confirmed to have been killed in the landslide that swept away miners’ huts in the predawn hours of last Good Friday and at least 10 more miners are known to be missing.

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“We understand their plight, their condition; they have families to feed,” Dr. Arnulfo Lantaya, Pantukan’s municipal planning and development officer, told a news conference here Thursday morning. “But we have consistently warned them of the dangers that they are facing in the area… they have been hardheaded…. These people, however, are good people who only wanted to live.”

He said municipal officials had an agreement with different groups of small-scale miners that their associations would take responsibility for the safety and welfare of their members.

Leaders of the mining groups, he said, agreed to closely monitor the operations of their members and warn them of possible dangers, even initiating preemptive evacuations when warranted.

“For humanitarian reasons we have allowed them to operate not only in the disaster site but in other areas of Pantukan. The local government has been dealing with these miners with diplomacy and utmost consideration of their conditions, despite the fact that many of them are not even from Pantukan,” Lantaya added.

But after the Good Friday landslide, the government of Pantukan must now act decisively, Lantaya said.

“We have experienced the disaster and its lessons were learned. We understand them but we regret to say that we have to do something and force them out of the disaster area. It is unfortunate that we have to experience it before they are convinced that the area is indeed dangerous for them,” Lantaya added.

Because of the landslide, it was easier to convince the miners to leave the area, Lantaya said.

Liza Mazo, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense, said that convincing miners to leave mining sites such as the Panganason area of Barangay Kingking had always been a challenge.

“Their resistance is always tied with their desperation over livelihood. And so we have asked the national government to also address the social dimension of the situation,” she said.

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She said that there are more than 500 villages all over Southern Mindanao that are prone to disastrous landslides, most of them in Compostela Valley and Davao del Sur.

Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas has ordered a forced evacuation of residents at the site of the Good Friday disaster, giving them the freedom to look for an area where they could be relocated with assistance of P5,000 in cash and some food provisions.

Of the 112 households involved, only three have shown opposition to the plan, Lantaya said.

“One of them refused to leave the area because of the amount of investment that he has poured in. He has spent more than a million for the mining facilities. He asked us to not dismantle his property, but the order was to vacate the area and declare it free from any activities,” Lantaya said.

The order of Sarenas was to declare the area a “no-man’s land.”

“Every structure in the area has to be demolished because we know that these people will go back there if we do not dismantle everything. Right now the area has to be cleared of anything,” he said.

Not even the large-scale mining companies will be allowed to enter and operate in the area, Lantaya said, dispelling the earlier fear of a group of small-scale miners that the government might use the tragedy as a justification to dislocate them and allow foreign mining companies to come in.

“That is very remote. Mayor Sarenas is for the poor and for small-scale miners. They need not worry,” Lantaya said.

Sarenas ordered a suspension of retrieval operations because of bad weather earlier this week but the operations resumed on Thursday with clearance from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Leading the retrieval operations now are the 15-member team Davao Firefighters Rescue Services.

Richard Hernandez, team leader of group, said they have been very careful because the bodies of the miners buried in the rubble are already in advanced state of decomposition.

“We have been doing manual excavation and everything has to be carefully done or we inflict more injury on the bodies of the victims,” he said.

The last body that they recovered, he said, was buried under almost two meters of soil.

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TAGS: Disasters (general), Local authorities, Mining & quarrying, Philippines – Regions
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