It’s blame throwing time after “Ompong.” Soon after it left the Philippine Area of Responsibility and even as the rescue and relief operations in the devastated areas were in full swing, critics started the finger-pointing game.
The administration was ill prepared to deal with the storm. It did not do enough to get people out of harm’s way. It did not pre-position the required resources. Relief was slow in coming. There was neglect and selective distribution of basic assistance.
Other critics offered tips on how things should have been done as if they were able to do things the right and responsible way during their time.
But the most ironic cut of all was the outcry against mining and in particular, Benguet Mining Corporation, whose Antamok mining area was where the landslide—which killed at least 60 people in
Barangay Ucab—is located. Immediately, the anti-mining groups including former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez pounced on the company as if its operations caused the said landslide. Worse, critics like Fr. Edu Eriguez, the patron of the anti-mining NGO Alyansa Tigil Mina even accused BMC of negligence and lack of empathy and respect for the dead and their families. The facts belie these charges.
DENR-CAR said that as early as 2011, the small miners have been advised to stay out of the Antamok area because it had been declared a geohazard area, prone to landslides. Earlier, in 1992 Benguet suspended its underground mining operations and subsequently, in 1997, it also suspended its open-pit mining operations.
From then on, it closed down its underground tunnels and implemented its close-out plan under the supervision of the regulatory bodies. It also told the local government unit and all stakeholders including the small-scale miners and the Itogon community not to venture into the area. The company even asked that temporary bunkers and shelters should be moved away from the abandoned areas. In fact, as Benguet went about implementing its approved closed-down plans, its operation was suspended by then DENR Secretary Lopez even as she was aware that there had been no operations years before her assumption into office. Unfortunately, Lopez proceeded to do whatever suited her as far as Benguet was concerned.
But, wonder of wonders, even as Lopez went about parading her ill implemented mining ban which ensnared Benguet and other big miners, she never bothered to do anything about the small-scale illegal miners including those in the Antamok area. It was clear she had made up her mind that Benguet and the big miners were the ones doing all the damage she imagined happening in the mining areas. She was oblivious to the bigger and more permanent damage done by illegal small mining operators. And, of course, the dangers of letting such runaway, unregulated operations to proliferate. But Lopez had made up her mind and that was that.
Never mind that Benguet had already closed down its operations in that landslide prone area. Never mind that Benguet had done all it can to ensure that mining operations cease in Antamok.
Never mind that the company had advised all concerned not to allow any kind of mining and even habitation in the landslide-prone parts of the claimed area. Never mind that the company even went to court against the illegal miners who defied its close-down initiative and dug dog holes all over the place.
Never mind that Benguet told Lopez in 2017 that due to the continued operations of the illegal small-scale miners who may have been emboldened by her demonization of the large scale operators it was already going to turn over the property to Lopez and the DENR.
More than that, it even advised the DENR to legalize the operations of the small scale miners by organizing them into a Minahang Bayan so that their activities can be properly regulated by government.
Despite that initiative and all its efforts to drive away the illegal operators in its Antamok area continued. In desperation, Benguet wrote DENR in May 2018, requesting assistance to permanently close all illegal operations in the claimed area and the relocation of any and all displaced miners to other more secure areas.
It even offered DENR to allow it to duplicate its successful Big Brother project in its Acupan area of operations where the small miners were organized into a cooperative under the guidance and supervision of the company, the DENR and the LGU. The said experiment has since been considered a success. In fact, unlike in Antamok, no untoward incident happened in Acupan during “Ompong”.
So there. If Lopez and the anti-mining chorus had only shown a bit of objectivity and listened to the voices of reason out there, probably we could have prevented the tragedy that was Barangay Ucab. Probably, some balance and science would have been injected in the national conversation on mining which would have resulted in better ways to avoid tragedies such as what happened. If only we heeded President
Duterte’s call for responsible mining early on, we would have come to some realistic solutions to the complex web of challenges and divergent interests in the country’s mining industry—environmental protection and safety, jobs and livelihood, investments and revenues, sustainable development. Instead of finger-pointing we should look for solutions if we are to move forward and let our resources serve our people and secure a sustainable future for us all.