The KAIABANG – Cordillera Peoples Alliance Benguet expresses its deepest condolences to the families and kakailian of our brothers and sisters who lost their lives during typhoon Ompong’s fury. KAIABANG is also in grief over one of the worst tragedies that occurred in the region, which is attributed to corporate mining and greed. At the same time, we are outraged by the fact that it is the poor communities and the small-scale miners who are reaping the destructions caused by almost a century of operations of the Benguet Corporation, Inc. (BCI). BCI has been plundering the municipality’s land and resources since 1904.
We are also enraged by the response and inaction of corrupt agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), MGB-CAR, EMB-CAR, the NCIP, and local politicos who favored BCI and corporate greed over peoples’ wellbeing.
But we are turning our grief and anger into all-out political actions as we demand the accountability of BCI and the DENR for the Itogon tragedy, and demand an end to corporate plunder of the region’s natural resources such as large-scale mining.
Historical Disasters and Corporate Plunder
Itogon has witnessed significant mining disasters in the region. In the 1990s, Ucab, Loakan, Tuding, Gumatdang, Ampucao, Poblacion, and Virac struggled against Project XYZ open-pit mining project of BCI, which could have flattened several mountains. But owing to the strong opposition of the affected communities, the BCI failed to further plunder the remaining minerals of the municipality.
In 2009, Sitio Luneta in Loakan experienced an almost apocalyptic scenario when Typhoon Pepeng pounded the region resulting in massive landslides. Residents of Loakan traversed landslides and land subsidence to evacuate for safety. The residents claimed that a BCI diversion tunnel caused a rupture in Loakan’s surface. Dalicno communities in Ampucao have also experienced land subsidence believed to be caused by the abandoned tunnels of the company. Major river systems such as the Ambalanga and the Liang rivers have been poisoned and became mere waste canals as the company flush its mine wastes in these waters.
Heavy rains brought by Typhoon Lawin in 2016 caused a breach in the drain tunnel and a leak in BCI’s Liang Tailings Dam where 50,000 metric tons of leakage flowed and further contaminated the Agno River. An enormous sinkhole, caused by the BCI twin tunnel, swallowed 7 homes including a 3-storey house in 2015.
During the monsoon rains in August this year, tailings impounded in Phase 3 in Gold Creek leaked adding more contaminants to the waters passing through Poblacion down to the Agno.
BCI claims to be the holder of almost 70% of the mineral reserves in Itogon, where the said tragedies occurred. But despite Benguet Corp.’s claims that these incidents were simply natural occurrences (force majeur), small-scale miners residents of Itogon, especially in the open pit area, asserted that these adversities were the results of the company’s irresponsibility, negligence, and greed.
Since 1996, the people of Itogon have also been demanding a stop to the mining contract scheme of Benguet Corporation with small-scale miners. This scheme was considered as a move to prolong the control of Benguet Corporation over Antamok despite its bankruptcy, and for its continued profit-making. Under this scheme, the company and the small scale miners shared an agreement in production whereby 70% of the output is owned by BCI and 30% goes to the small-scale miners. Small-scale miners are also compelled to pay the company monthly dues as part of their sharing scheme.
Most settlers in First Gate, part of the area that was buried in the recent biggest landslide in Itogon, were contract miners who had no security of tenure, no security of shelter, and no protection from the company or compensation for workplace mishaps. These miners gambled their lives with BCI. Thus, the company is accountable for the lives lost in the September 18 landslide that buried First Gate and BCI Tunnel 070. The umili’s testimonies are strong – BCI aggravated the impact of natural disasters in the municipality.
BCI out of Itogon now!
For decades, the people’s mass movement persisted in the campaign to put an end to Benguet Corporation, Inc.’s control of the mineral resources in Itogon. The recent Itogon tragedy should serve as an eye-opener to the government and the public. BCI must be held accountable for the Itogon tragedy! It must return Itogon to the hands of its rightful owners – the Ibaloi people. The company should also abide with transparency and provide the public copies of its tunnel maps to help communities in disaster preparedness. BCI should also live up to its promise of rehabilitating Itogon. Ang government agencies especially the DENR should support the demands of the people instead of favoring BCI.
We call on the people of Itogon to revive the spirit of the barricades against the Project XYZ in the 90s -- the struggle to kick BCI out of Itogon.
We call on government officials to leave behind their personal interests and be one with the people’s campaign to stop BCI operations.
We call on the people not to be fogged by the Duterte regime’s statements because Duterte and DENR Secretary Cimatu are mere lackeys of giant mining corporations. They are allowing Lepanto, Philex, and BCI to plunder the natural resources of Benguet while stabbing small-scale miners face-to-face through the National Task Force in Mining Challenge and Cimatu’s declaration to close all small-scale mining operations in the region.
The KAIABANG-CPA BENGUET also continues to appeal for support for the ongoing relief and rehabilitation operations for the victims of the disaster wrought by typhoon Ompong. We are also calling for volunteers for the SERVE THE PEOPLE BRIGADE – Cordillera Disaster Response Network to take part in disaster response operations all over the province. Through a broad mass movement, we can help our kakailyan to be rise up from the ravages left by the disaster.
People and Environment Over Profit!
Junk Mining Act of 1995!
Vergel Aniceto, KAIABANG