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Closure of Semirara pit sought

Lawmakers are pushing for the immediate suspension of DM Consunji Inc.’s coal mining operations on Semirara Island in Antique while provincial disaster management officials are calling for the permanent closure of the Panian mining pit following its collapse on Friday, causing the death of six and disappearance of three others.

Special committee on climate change and Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said that since this was the second mining tragedy in DMCI’s Semirara mining operations in the last 29 months, it behooved the government to act swiftly in stopping all activities in the mining area.

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“Considering that this is not the first time this happened, Semirara operations should be suspended until all government agencies, including Congress, have finished their investigations and brought to justice all persons and entities responsible. Otherwise, if we treat Semirara with kid gloves and allow it again to wantonly continue its operations, God forbid, we might be inviting further tragedies which will certainly be worse than before,” said Batocabe.

On July 18, a portion of DMCI’s northern Panian mining pit collapsed and buried the workers, mostly drivers of heavy equipment. On Feb. 13, 2013, part of the western wall of the Panian pit—a kilometer from last Friday’s accident site—the collapsed, leaving five workers dead and five others still missing and presumed dead.

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There were other minor accidents at the pit that have claimed two lives per incident, according to workers interviewed by the Inquirer.

Antique Gov. Rhodora Cadiao told the Inquirer that in an emergency meeting, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC) passed a resolution recommending to the provincial board the closure of the 360-hectare mining pit.

Expansion areas

Cadiao clarified that they were not calling for the closure of and the total stoppage of operations of Semirara Mining Power Corp. (SMPC).

“We only want a stop to the mining operations in that area,” she said.

Cadiao said mining operations could continue because the SMPC had expansion areas it could continue excavating for coal.

She said the mining operations provided employment to 2,575 workers and contributed hundreds of millions of pesos in royalty to the provincial and municipal governments as well as Semirara Island.

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But she said the safety of the workers should be the primary concern.

“This is the second time this has happened. The first time, they promised it will not happen again, and whether there is negligence or not, this can be considered a dangerous area,” she said.

The Department of Energy (DOE), which conducted an investigation of the 2013 incident, cleared SMPC of any liabilities but required the company to put up additional safety measures before it allowed extraction operations to continue a few months later.

Overly exploited

Cadiao said the accident could be a sign the Panian pit had overly been exploited, noting that the excavation had reached 700 feet below sea level.

“Maybe it’s time to vacate that area because they have an expansion area,” she said.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, a member of the House committee on natural resources, said he would summon Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to explain why his agency failed to monitor DMCI’s compliance with mining safety rules, espe cially after the 2013 disaster.

Batocabe said he would demand that top officials of DMCI, specifically Semirara Mining Corp. chief executive officer Isidro Consunji, appear before Congress to explain his company’s failure to improve safety standards in the country’s largest coal mine.

Snubbed Congress

Batocabe noted that Consunji, son of billionaire David Consunji, had been snubbing Congress’ invitation to appear in the probe into DMCI’s Torre de Manila project which is said to mar the Rizal Monument skyline.

“We will not allow him to only send lawyers to the hearing unlike with Torre de Manila because this involves a series of tragedies,” said Batocabe.

Lawyer Virgie Suarez, secretary general of the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (Kilusan), said DMCI should be held liable for the deaths and injuries of the workers.

“The usual promise of mining companies like DMCI to provide employment should be investigated by the Department of Labor: How many employees were actually provided employment? What is their status? Are they properly compensated? Is the hazard inherent in the mining of coal that the employees are compensated enough by the wages that the employees receive?” asked Suarez.

“DMCI should be held liable for its continuous mining of coal and the use of it for energy purposes. Coal is considered the dirtiest fossil fuel. Their so-called green coal or clean coal is nothing but a farce,” said Suarez.

Victor Consunji, SMPC president and chief operating officer, said in an earlier interview that the company was conducting a comprehensive review of its safety protocols and measures to find the cause of the incident.

He also assured the public they would be transparent with the investigation and review.

Many of the workers and their families fear the loss of their jobs in a prolonged suspension of operations or a permanent closure of the company.

Mayor Genevive Lim-Reyes of Caluya town where Semirara Island is located said several workers and residents had asked her about the plight of the company amid an order from the DOE to suspend extraction operations at the pit pending the agency’s investigation.

Prayer vigils

Reyes said she will wait for the results of the DOE investigation, with the primary concern of helping the families of the victims cope with the tragedy.

The municipal government has been conducting debriefings and psychosocial support to the victims’ families. Nightly prayer vigils have also been held at the municipal sub-office in Semirara.

The municipal government also intends to grant P25,000 each to the families of the fatalities and P10,000 each to those of survivors.

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TAGS: Accident, Congress, DM Consunji, Mining and quarrying, Panian mining pit, Rodel Batocabe, Semirara, Semirara pit
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