The September 2018 mining disaster in Itogon, Benguet is yet another testament that responsible mining is a myth. Benguet Corporation, Inc. (BCI) is guilty of accountabilities in the historic disasters that have been taking place in Itogon, most recent of which is the massive landslides at Level 070 and nearby communities, which claimed the lives of at least 97 people, mostly small-scale miners. The mining disasters in Itogon were a result of BCI’s century-old underground large-scale mining and even its failed open pit mining projects. It is BCI’s mining operations that has now put many communities in Itogon at risk of disasters and unsafe for habitation.
Itogon has been prone to mining disasters especially during strong rains and typhoons. The year 2015 witnessed 7 houses swallowed by an enormous sinkhole caused by BCI’s twin tunnel. Ground subsidence was also experienced in Dalicno and other parts of the municipality. In 2016, 50,000 metric tons of mine tailings leaked from BCI’s Liang Tailings Dam, which further contaminated the Agno River. In August this year, a leakage in BCI’s tailings that were impounded in Phase 3, Gold Creek have added more contaminants into the waters that pass through Poblacion going to the Agno River. For decades, BCI’s operations have poisoned Ambalanga and Liang Rivers, turning these into waste canals. In all of these, BCI tried to white wash, claiming these were natural occurrences or the result of small-scale mining activities.
Yet after the September 2018 mining disaster, the government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) immediately ordered the closure of small-scale mining activities in Itogon without even looking into BCI’s accountability since this happened directly above one of its portals. By putting the blame on small-scale miners for the mining disaster and not conducting thorough investigation on the role of BCI mining operations, the DENR is protecting BCI, ignoring the fact that BCI’s mining operations is causing disasters and may continue to do so unless mitigated, and ignoring the welfare and safety and the Itogon people. It is also unjust for the DENR to simply deny the people of Itogon of their livelihood without providing any long-term alternate livelihood sources.
The DENR order for the closure of small-scale mining tunnels has gravely affected more than 40,000 small scale miners in Itogon, along with their families. But even BCI turned small scale mining as an added source for profit. BCI’s contract scheme with small scale miners whereby at most 70% of small-scale miners’ profit goes to BCI, has been opposed by the local people of Itogon since 1996. In fact, most of the settlers in First Gate, part of the area that was buried in the September 2018 killer landslide were contract miners of BCI who had no security of tenure, no security of shelter, and no protection from the company or just compensation for workplace mishaps.
BCI’s promise of rehabilitating Itogon, which never happened, must be pushed and implemented the soonest time possible. For without adequate rehabilitation of the mined-out areas, disasters such as massive landslides and ground subsidence are inevitable. If the company, which has been raking profits for over a century, is truly sincere in caring for the people of Itogon and the environment, it must spend its own money for the rehabilitation of the area without having to continue any profit-making schemes that entail continuity of mining. At the least, it should backfill its underground tunnels, clean up Agno river and other rivers, provide just compensation to damaged properties of the people, do reforestation, release to the public a copy of its underground tunnels map.
At present, there is no popular clamor for Regional Autonomy, except by the proponents and some supporters of House Bill 5343. Yet now even the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is initiating another process of creating a Cordillera People’s Autonomy Bill. This only shows the disunity and insincerity of the government in realizing the Cordillera peoples’ aspiration for Genuine Regional Autonomy.
The experience of Itogon, which is no different from that of the communities affected by Lepanto mining and Philex mining operations, must not happen in any other areas in the region. Large-scale mining applications in the region, which now reached more than 100 applications including the mining project of the Cordillera Exploration Corp. Inc. (CEXCI), must be withdrawn. This is especially so at this time of extreme weather conditions such as heavier rainfall and stronger typhoons as a result of climate change, making the Cordillera soil even more prone to landslides and flooding.
CPA will not participate in the OPAPP-initiated process, which is another bogus regional autonomy initiative. The people cannot participate in such a dictated, time constrained, and undemocratic process. OPAPP’s proposed Cordillera People’s Autonomy Bill is an act of deception and a mockery of our aspiration to self determination and genuine recognition of our ancestral land rights.
We call on the DENR to take the peoples’ side. It must hold BCI and other mining companies accountable to their negligence, crimes against the environment and the people, and any violations of human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights. The DENR should also be held accountable for not ensuring BCI’s rehabilitation of Itogon, and for trampling upon the small-scale miners’ human rights, such as their right to life and livelihood.
The material base of our collective right to self determination and regional autonomy, identity and culture is our ancestral land. If these are grabbed, destroyed and plundered, what “regional autonomy” are we talking about? The plunder of ancestral lands and the resources therein (on top of large-scale mining operations are 102 mining applications, at least 87 hydropower projects and 5 geothermal power projects) must first be stopped, and the national oppression of indigenous peoples and the fundamental problems faced by the Filipino people must be seriously addressed. Only then can we move towards achieve genuine regional autonomy.
We call on Benguet Corp. to give back the land it occupies to its rightful owners – the people of Itogon.
Thus, we urge groups and individuals participating in OPAPP’s bogus regional autonomy process to rethink and not legitimize this undemocratic and divisive initiative.
We call on our kailian to continue to defend our ancestral lands from plunder and destruction by mining companies – Benguet Corporation, Lepanto Mining Corporation, Philex Mining, CEXCI and other mining companies that want to extract minerals in the region.
Enough of the disasters in Itogon! Enough of large-scale mining in the Cordillera!
Benguet Corporation out of Itogon now!
Stop imperialist mining in the Cordillera!
Santos Mero, Vice Chairperson for Internal Affairs