Landslide victims were “illegally operating” in area, mining company says

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“Subsequent warnings, and notices from the company for the small scale miners to vacate the area were met with resistance and outright refusal,” said Benguet Corp. in a disclosure filed on Monday. — PHILSTAR

By Anna Gabriela A. Mogato

MINING company Benguet Corp. said that the small-scale miners who were struck by the landslide in Barangay Ucab in Itogon, Benguet were illegally operating in its Antamok property.

In a disclosure to the Stock Market on Monday, Benguet Corp. said that its Antamok mines were “gradually encroached by small-scale miners” after the company suspended operations in the late 1990s to study new technologies for mining low-grade ores. The company said it had issued notices warning the small-scale miners that the areas they illegally operated in were considered unsafe by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

“Their unregulated mining activties are without permission of the company,” the disclosure stated. “Subsequent warnings, and notices from the company for the small scale miners to vacate the area were met with resistance and outright refusal.”

Following the recent landslide caused by Typhoon Ompong, Benguet Corp. had provided medical assistance as well as collaborated on rescue operations with the local government unit and MGB-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).

According to official reports, 43 bodies had been recovered from the landslide. One survivor was also found, with 30 others still missing.

As Ompong swept through the region, dozens of Ucab locals — mostly miners and their families — took shelter in a mining bunkhouse-turned chapel, Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. When the rains reached their height, the mountainside collapsed on them, obliterating the structure.

On Monday, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu had ordered all temporary permits of small-scale miners in CAR to be revoked as a preventive measure.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources had been grappling with the issue of small-scale miners in Northern Luzon as the the Minahang Bayan, made possible by the Republic Act No. 7076, or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, is not covered by the moratorium on processing and approving new mining operations.

Mr. Cimatu last year also lamented that the small-scale miners had been breaching on the property of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio city. The department has since been moving to fast track the passage of Minahang Bayan applications to improve the regulation of small-scale miners.