While it is long overdue, CPA welcomes the DENR announcement this week on the closure of 23 mining operations in several parts of the country, including Benguet Corporation (BC). While Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company is among those up for suspension, we are fervently pushing for the closure of this company for its historical accountability to the destruction of people’s lands and polluting and silting the Abra River and its tributaries for the past 80 years.
Over 100 years of BC’s open-pit mining in Itogon has removed whole mountains and entire villages from the land surface. After exhausting the gold ore, the open pit in Itogon is now abandoned as the company has shifted to other economic ventures like water privatization, small scale contract scheme and housing.
Benguet Corporation had denuded the pine forests of Itogon, Baguio, Tuba, and Tublay. When they ran out of timber, the mining company expanded their logging to Bobok in Bokod. Apart from denuding the forests, the company also ruined the groundwater systems of Itogon first with deep exploration drilling and the driving of tunnels then with open-pit mining. And apart from destroying watersheds and groundwater systems, Benguet Corporation also polluted surface water channels, land surfaces, and the air – with sulfurous oxides from the exposure of massive amounts of mineral overburden, acid mine drainage, and huge volumes of mine tailings laden with cyanide, other poisonous ore-processing chemicals, and toxic concentrations of dissolved heavy metals. The sediments and contaminants were transported by rivers through Pangasinan to the Lingayen Gulf where they sometimes caused fish kills. Up to the present, sediments from both active and abandoned tailings dams continue to cause flooding and destruction of rice fields and fishponds in the lowlands. They are also quickly silting up the San Roque dam.
The people of Mankayan remember the Abra River before the mine. It was deep and narrow, just 5 meters wide, full of fish and surrounded by verdant rice paddies. Now there is a wide gorge of barren land on either side of the polluted river. Fruit trees and animals have died from the poisoned water and rice crops are stunted. Environmental Investigatory Missions were carried out by the Save the Abra River Movement in 2004 validating and re-affirming community testimonies on the big role of Lepanto in the pollution of the Abra River, destruction of ricefields, posing of health hazards to communities and workers, among others. UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen in his 2002 visit to Mankayan also validated the same findings of STARM, with concrete recommendations on human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights. The suspension order for Lepanto has yet to be served but it raises hope for an end to the mining operations that have been destroying people’s lands and the Abra River. The people of Mankayan have long called for the closure of Lepanto.
The DENR decision on BC and Lepanto also shows that no amount of ISO certification will speak clearer or louder than the collective voice of communities who suffered from the operations of these mining giants. We hope that DENR’s announcement for the closure and suspension be implemented swiftly, and that accountability and just compensations is ensured.