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Cimatu clears Benguet in Itogon landslide; illegal miners blamed

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Tuesday said Benguet Corp. itself did not want any illegal miners to stay within its mine site, where 78 people were killed and buried alive in Barangay Ucab, Itogon, Benguet at the height of Typhoon “Ompong.”

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said Benguet Corp. had already stopped its operations in the area as early as in 1997.

“That property is a private one. It is owned by Benguet [Corp.]. In fact, it was not allowing anyone [there]. It even requested the people [there] to leave the [mine] site,” he told the Manila Standard in an interview.

“I just don’t know the extent of its capability to enforce [the ejection]. The [whole] area is too big,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cimatu said there is still a need to conduct an investigation into culpability of those responsible for the landslide.

Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said the local officials and residents of Barangay Ucab had resisted the plan to close down the mining operation.

In a television News to Go interview, he said Benguet Corp. requested the formal closure of its mine in 2016 so it could start rehabilitation efforts in the area.

“We just don’t know why the local government [unit] and the community did not want to cooperate. Let’s admit it, that [mining] is their livelihood,” he said.

An approval from the local government and community is needed to be able to proceed with the rehabilitation work.

Benguet Corp. ceased its mine operations in Itogon in 1997.

“There is [really] a plan for closure and rehabilitation. But it could not be implemented since there has been no approval yet from the board, which is composed of the community and the local government, of which the chairperson is the head of the DENR,” Antiporda said.

“It is not DENR alone [that can] give the green light. We need the [approval of the] board,” he added.

The death toll from the landslide reached 60 Tuesday morning as three more bodies were found before noon, a TV report on GMA-7 said. With Dexter See and F. Pearl Gajunera

Also on Tuesday, the Chamber of Mines described the current state of the mining industry as “parked.”

Ronald Risodoro, executive director of the chamber, attributed the current state of the industry to anti-mining statements by President Rodrigo Duterte and the failure of the government to grant additional mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) to interested investors since 2010.

Stakeholders are in a quandary over the administration’s refusal to see mining as a catalyst of countryside development, he said.

Benguet Provincial Administrator Noel Ngolob said prevailing government policies were restrictive, and have prevented small-scale mining groups to secure the appropriate permits to operate. He urged the national government to relax existing rules on small-scale miners to give them the opportunity to legalize their operations.

Most of those killed in Itogon were small-scale miners who refused to leave the area as Typhoon “Ompong” approached.

The Davao City government said Tuesday it would extend P2 million in assistance to Naga, Cebu, to help the victims of the recent landslide there.

On Tuesday, the city council approved the P2-million assistance in a form of food and non-food from the 5 percent Quick Respond Fund budget of the city from the entire year of 2018.

Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, the committee chairman for finance and ways and means, said through the request of Mayor Sara Duterte, the council will allocate a fraction of the city’s QRF.

“Under the law, a local government has the discretion to give aid to other LGUs as long as they are under a state of calamity,” Dayanghirang said.

Over 55 bodies were recovered following the Sept. 20 landslide.

Residents of Naga blame quarrying for the tragedy. With Dexter See and F. Pearl Gajunera

Topics: Department of Environment and Natural Resources , Benguet Corp. , Typhoon “Ompong”
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