We express our deepest sympathies to the families, kailian and friends of those who have lost their lives, homes and livelihood from typhoon Ompong’s wrath. The Cordillera is in deep mourning over the death of our brothers and sisters especially in Itogon, Benguet where devastating landslides killed at least 46 people with 68 others who are still missing. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance is with you in these most trying times as we try to recover together from this mine-made tragedy in Benguet that continues to afflict the people time and again.
This is also a time to further reflect and decisively act on the causes of such tragedy before another mining tragedy happens. Beneath the land surface of Itogon are gigantic tunnels created by the profit-driven Benguet Corporation Inc. from almost a century of large-scale mining. The mountains have become denuded, rivers have disappeared, and agricultural crops can barely thrive in the surface. Communities were left with no choice but to rely on small-scale mining, a traditional source of livelihood, for a living.
1. Benguet Corporation, Inc. (BCI) must be held accountable for the death of dozens of people during typhoon Ompong.The killer landslide in Itogon is undoubtedly caused by the century-old large-scale mining operations of BCI. Over the past decade, and as the region more evidently experienced climate change impacts such as stronger typhoons, ground subsidence and landslides in Itogon became recurrent and on a more massive scale especially during heavy rains and typhoons. The old tunnels of BCI have rendered the mountains unstable and extremely vulnerable to landslides and sinkholes.
2. Small-scale miners and the communities are the victims.The Itogon Tragedy has, once again, shown how communities suffer from the impacts of large-scale mining operations. After more than 100 years of extracting gold and other minerals, BCI also did nothing to effectively rehabilitate Itogon. Worse, BCI continued to further extract gold through its small-scale mining contract scheme (profit-sharing with small-scale miners).
The people in Itogon and other provinces are forced to resort to small-scale mining for livelihood due to the destruction of agricultural lands, lack of government support to agriculture, poisoning of rivers from toxic mine wastes, and lack of job opportunities. But while small-scale mining needs to be regulated, the recent Itogon Tragedy is not due to small-scale mining as claimed by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu.
3. DENR is using the Itogon Tragedy to stop small-scale mining and pave the way for big mining corporations to take over.Following the Itogon Tragedy, DENR Secretary Cimatu ordered to stop all small-scale mining in the region but said nothing about large-scale mining when in fact there are more than 100 large-scale mining applications under process with the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau. Clearly, the declaration of DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu to ban small-scale mining operations is not meant to protect the environment nor to ensure the safety of mined-out communities but rather to opportunistically advance the interests of big mining corporations.
It was recalled that in February this year, Cimatu declared a crackdown on small-scale mining operations, which was implemented by the National Task Force Mining Challenge comprised of the DENR, the Philippine Army and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). By banning small-scale mining, large-scale mining companies will be able to further expand their projects and monopolize the mining industry. Instead of protecting our environment and communities from destruction due to large-scale mining, the DENR is mobilizing State security forces to wreak havoc in communities of small scale mining operations. This will result in the militarization of small-scale mining communities, and loss of livelihood of more than 100,000 small-scale miners and their families in the region.
4. Stop large scale-mining and junk the Mining Act of 1995.The tragedy wreaked by typhoon Ompong should serve as an eye-opener for the government and the people. Let us draw lessons from the Itogon Tragedy so that no similar disasters will happen again.
Secretary General, CPA