19 September 2018

Highlighting the recent mining-related disaster in Itogon, Benguet, a representative of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) delivered an indictment of President Rodrigo Duterte on his various mining-related human rights violations as an expert witness at the ongoing International People’s Tribunal (IPT) currently being held in Brussels, Belgium.

This was in light of the recent landslide disaster in Itogon, Benguet triggered by Super Typhoon Ompong Benguet Corporation’s geologically unstable and abandoned large-scale mine tunnels. This resulted in the death of at least 43 small-scale miners, with dozens more missing.

“Benguet Corporation was compelled to rehabilitate their abandoned mine site in Itogon as part of the 2017 suspension order meted upon them. The Office of the President itself stayed Benguet Corporation’s suspension alongside 27 other mining closure and suspension orders despite its record of environmental violations. This is just one of the many mining crimes perpetrated by Duterte against the people’s right to their lands, resources, and environment,” said Clemente Bautista, international network coordinator of Kalikasan PNE and an expert witness to the IPT.

Benguet Corporation’s abandoned mine tunnels in Itogon became the site of a sinkhole that swallowed six houses and displaced 166 residents in 2015. In November 2016, the unrehabilitated mine also figured in a 50,000 metric-ton tailings leak. In response, Benguet Corporation was just fined a paltry P24 million by the Environmental Management Bureau. The corporation is owned by the Romualdezes, a politically prominent clan associated with the Marcoses.

Duterte, known for his fiery rhetoric against mining, was hit for what the charges called his “turnaround towards mining oligarchs” resulting in the holding back of the closure and suspension orders, the removal of former secretary Lopez in exchange for former general and known mining and logging protector Roy Cimatu, and the further expansion of large-scale mining projects in the country.

“If the closure and suspension orders had been implemented, it would have helped ease the plight of communities suffering from water pollution, drying up of water sources, and deforestation. Who knows, the Itogon disaster might even have been averted if the marching orders to rehabilitate the Antamok mine site and hold Benguet Corp accountable was implemented,” said Bautista.

“Will Benguet Corp escape accountability once again because, like Duterte, the Romualdezes who own the company are part of the Marcos coterie?” he furthered.

Kalikasan PNE also charged Duterte with increasing the number of commercially operating large-scale mines and mineral reservation areas, in the context of increasingly violent attacks against anti-mining activists and environmental defenders.

The case made by environmental activists at the IPT coincides with the annual international mining conference organized by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines in Manila from September 18 to 20. Its jurors, comprised of renowned international human rights lawyers from different countries, are expected to announce the verdict on September 19 at around 6:00 PM, Central European Standard Time (UTC+1) or around September 20 12:00 AM in the Philippines.#