Fingerpointing on mining should stop

September 21, 2018

THE fingerpointing should stop now before we add more misery to the tragedy which befell our people in the aftermath of that super howler “Ompong”.

Cyclone - Typhoon Ompong
Typhoon Ompong

It is sad enough that almost 100 people are dead or declared missing in landslides in various parts of the country, the latest in Naga, Cebu, caused by continuous rain before, during and even after ‘Ompong’ swept through a large part of Northern Luzon. Add to that the loss of billions of pesos in crops and property, not to mention billions more in roads, bridges and other government assets swept away in the process. It will probably take weeks even up to the end of the year in some parts before the situation stabilizes and lives return to normal. By then, we will need all the resources and assistance we can muster to ensure that at least we get our bearings back.

Which is why it is unfathomable why some sectors and individuals who should know better have taken it upon themselves to use our people’s misery to castigate the administration and their favorite scapegoats, pontificate and issue all kinds of advisories on ‘what should be done’ or otherwise blabber about almost all the wrongs which have visited the country since President Duterte assumed office. Instead of lending a helping hand and doing their very best to uplift our people’s spirits and get them back on their feet, they are using this tragedy to dampen their resolve. Instead of telling the truth about the typhoon, landslides and other natural phenomenon which are our fate as a country in this part of the world these people have gone to town peddling all kinds of pseudo reportage even fake news.

Take the case of the landslide in Barangay Ucab in Itogon. Immediately after what happened, some sectors including former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez went to town blaming Benguet Corporation and other big miners for the tragedy. Invoking her earlier ill informed, scientifically challenged ‘facts’ against the mining industry Lopez again reiterated her ‘total ban on mining’ mantra. It never occurred to her (or maybe she did not even care to listen) that the landslide was a tragedy-in-the-waiting which was advised by no less than DENR/MGB Cordillera Regional Office, the police and even the Itogon local officials days before “Ompong’ wreaked havoc in the area.

Warning falls on deaf ears

No less than Police Chief Inspector Zambale whose station has jurisdiction over the area cried as they were busy retrieving the bodies of those buried in the landslide saying he had talked thrice with many of the dead persons two days before the tragedy begging them to evacuate the area and go to safer places. He even told them that the bunkhouses and the church in what is now ground zero would not be spared if a landslide happens as the heavy downpour in the wake of “Ompong” will definitely further loosen up the grounds as these have been soaked in water due to the continuous rains in Benguet early on. Unfortunately, his warnings fell on deaf ears. Yet Lopez and the anti-mining network ignored the facts and only pointed to Benguet Corporation as the culprit.

This misplaced, totally baseless accusation was belied by no less than the officials on the ground. And they have the facts, photos and testimonies to back their assertions. Zambales’ testimony must have come as a shock to the anti-Benguet, anti-mining guys. That they did not even mention the fact that as early as 1992, Benguet’s underground mining operations in the Antamok area where Barangay Ucab is located had been discontinued and that in 1997 even their open pit operations were also stopped only made the critics’ blabbering even more outrageous. And when it was made known that since 2000 the company has been issuing out notices against small scale illegal miners in the area to the extent of charging them in court, the contrived outrage of Lopez and company became a whimper. It would appear that they were more interested in shaming Benguet Corporation than getting the facts about what really happened in Barangay Ucab.

The inconsistency and seeming indifference of this network of naysayers became even more obvious after the Naga, Cebu landslide yesterday which trapped some fifty people. Like in Itogon, the DENR/MGB Regional Office reported that the natural fissures of the landslide area soaked as it was by heavy rains not mining was the proximate cause of the landslide. What is a mystery is why up to now nothing has been heard from Lopez and other anti-mining groups. Not a warning, a cry against mining like what they did in the case of Itogon since this happened within the mining area of a cement company. Not even a word of sympathy from any of them. What happened? Why the silence? We can only surmise they must have been chastened by the mindlessness which accompanied their earlier outcry against Benguet and the big mining firms.

State of mining industry

In any event, now that reason and science has finally taken hold it is time the government and the mining industry come to terms with the state of the industry. The Itogon and Naga tragedies not to mention the mini landslides which also killed a number of people in Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan should prod all concerned to revisit not only the Mining Act as advised by no less than President Duterte to make it more attuned to the realities on the ground such as the proliferation of illegal small mining operations in abandoned or even unattended mining areas. The geo hazard mapping effort should also be reformed again to give better and more up to date information on the problems of communities in and around not only mining areas but mountains and ridges many of which may have been deforested or even leveled for housing and other human activities.

But more than all of these operational concerns what should be topmost in our list is how to optimize the benefits of mining operations to our people and their communities. We are hearing a lot about responsible mining these days. That it should be pro-people, pro-sustainable development, pro-environment. How to translate these goals into reality should now be looked into. The terms and the conditions for such an undertaking should now be fleshed out. We are also hearing about Minahang Bayan to get small mining operations into the light and make those engaged in it accountable not only in terms of their methods but in terms of the safety of the workers involved but their benefits as well. These and other concerns as far as the industry is concerned should now be addressed with extreme urgency.

After all, despite the apprehensions, heartaches and even downright misgivings we have about mining there is no way we can simply wish the industry away. Even if government now declares a total mining ban and deploy thousands of soldiers to guard the mining areas there is no way we can stop our people in their tens of thousands from defying all odds and scouring the earth. They simply have to live. That’s that. Our duty is to make their livelihood as proper, responsible and profitable for all concerned. Not only for them and their families but for the generations yet to come.