10 October 2018 

Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) joined Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate in filing a House Resolution calling on the Committee of Natural Resources to investigate the liability of Benguet Corporation and Apo-Cemex respectively in the recent landslide disasters in Itogon, Benguet and Naga City, Cebu.

“We urge Congress to look into the accountability of Benguet Corp. and Apo-Cemex in the twin tragedies that caused at least 167 deaths to date. We must investigate how these extractives were allowed to acquire, operate, and abandon tenements in geologically hazardous areas without sufficient risk mitigating measures,” said Leon Dulce, National Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

 At the aftermath of the Naga City landslide, President Duterte exonerated quarrying firm Apo Cemex, blaming the disaster solely on excessive rains. Various officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are also quick to deny that mining could have been significant factors in the two landslide incidents.

 “The Duterte government and the mining and quarrying companies can neither put the blame solely on excessive rainfall nor on small scale miners. By contracting out small scale miners to mine gold in its behalf at an area already known to be landslide-prone, Benguet Corp put the lives of these mining families at risk. On the other hand, Apo Cemex continued its quarrying operations even as residents reported observing cracks and fissures in the slopes months before the landslide occurred,” said Dulce.

 Dulce referred to the Benguet Corporation – Acupan Contract Mining Project where Benguet Corp allowed small scale miners to put their lives in the line in exchange for a measly 30% share of the gold output from Benguet Corp’s hazardous abandoned mine areas. Under this outsourcing scheme, Benguet Corp does not have to spend for the salaries, safety equipment, shelter, and hazard pay of the small scale miners while it reaps 70% of the gold mined.

“This has not been the first time that Benguet Corporation got involved in a mining disaster. Its abandoned tunnels collapsed during Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 and again during Typhoon Lando in 2015. It has spilled mine waste in 2016 and again just August this year. Benguet Corp’s Antamok mine contracting project was in fact suspended and ordered to expedite mine rehabilitation by former environment secretary Regina Lopez early in 2017. No less than the Office of the President itself was responsible for staying this order for more than a year up until the disaster happened,” explained Dulce.

The environment group pointed out that local Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) officials recommended to the Naga City mayor that Apo Cemex’ mountainside quarrying operations be allowed to continue despite residents’ concerns and despite MGB’s own landslide hazard maps of Naga City showing the area’s high susceptibility to landslides.

 Aside from Apo Cemex, quarrying firms also figured in other disasters this year, such as the mudslides and flashfloods experienced by downstream communities in Marikina and other parts of Metro Manila during the Habagat rains that struck last August. Quarrying in Rizal province contributed to flooding and mudslides by removing vegetation and trees along slopes and rendering these slopes vulnerable to erosion by the excessive rains.

 “The House inquiry must also seriously look into the repeated promises of President Duterte of closing the big mines and repealing the Mining Act of 1995. Duterte keeps claiming he cannot do anything about the current disastrous mining policy despite his so-called’ super majority’ in Congress. The Mining Act’s promotion of irresponsible mining especially in light of recent disasters must be investigated once and for all,” ended Dulce.#