Surigao del Sur gov blasts bishop over Agusan del Sur floods, slides
SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur — While admitting he is into the business of hauling ore from mines in his province, the governor of Surigao del Sur on Friday blasted a ranking Catholic Church official for linking the deadly landslides at the height of Tropical Storm “Basyang” (international name: Sanba) to logging and mining.
Gov. Vicente Pimentel Jr. said Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar “chose to amplify and speculate on baseless and unfounded accusations, instead of helping and comforting the victims” of Basyang.
In a pastoral letter he issued on Feb. 17, Odchimar blamed the recent landslides in the province on the disastrous effects of mining. The pastoral letter also called for an investigation of those responsible for the landslides.
“Could the reason be due to massive mining operations that denuded forested mountains and critical watersheds?” the pastoral letter read.
Two towns — Carrascal and Cantilan — bore the brunt of the tragedy with scores of people killed.
Odchimar also took the provincial government to task for allegedly protecting the interests of mining firms, some of which were believed to be owned by “high-ranking officials of the province.”
The village of Babuyan in Carrascal town was directly beneath the area being mined by Carrascal Nickel Co., according to Chito Trillanes of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag.
Feeling alluded to
Trillanes said this was among the findings of a 2016 mining audit conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, on orders of former Secretary Gina Lopez. He said he represented the Catholic Church during the audit.
Saying he felt being alluded to in the pastoral letter, Pimentel denied owning a mining company in either Carrascal or Cantilan.
He admitted, though, that he was into the trucking business, which services the hauling needs of mining companies. His trucks haul nickel ore from the mining areas.
Pimentel also disputed reports that the villages devastated by the landslides and floods in Carrascal were very close to the mining areas. The villages were “comfortably” far from the areas, he said.
Odchimar said that during the flooding, heavy current swept logs downstream, becoming deadly projectiles that either destroyed or damaged houses, bridges, village halls and other structures.
The people, he said, were demanding answers to why “the flood came so fast and, in some areas, why a number of logs and felled trees were swept downstream, destroying houses.”
Pimentel said the villages hit by landslides and flooding had already been identified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as prone to landslides and floods.
Citing a Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration report, he said Basyang dumped at least 239 millimeters of rain in just seven hours.
The amount of rainfall, Pimentel added, was equivalent to a month of continuous rains.
“Just like any other flood, running water or surface runoff will bring with it all the debris along its path including uprooted trees, dead trees and logs from ‘kaingin’ system,” he said.
Pimentel also denied reports about the collapse of siltation ponds of the mining companies, saying all these facilities were still intact based on the drone videos taken by his men. —CHRIS PANGANIBAN
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