ITOGON, Benguet The conduct of small-scale mining activities in the area that was the previous site of a large-scale mining operation is not the main culprit in the tragic landslide incident that buried dozens of people alive inside a bunkhouse turned chapel at Ucab, here, right at the height of the onslaught of Tropical Cyclone Ompong, Saturday, an official of the Cordillera office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR) said Friday.
MGB-CAR mine safety, environment and social development division chief Engr. Felizardo Gacad explained the area had been previously identified by the agency as a geohazard area because of indications that it was an active slide after Benguet Corporation (BC) ceased its over a century of operation some 26 years ago.
Further, he added the situation of the site has been described to have highly weathered and fractured soil and rock formation aside from the absence of vegetation that is an aggravating factor for the presence of the active slide in the place.
Based on reports from the MGB-CAR, Gacad noted that there was already the occurrence of a landslide in the same area where the latest landslide happened sometime in 2011 at the height of Typhoon Mina that is why the occurrence of landslide in the place is not new to the inhabitants of the area.
“The situation in the area was further worsened by the month-long continuous monsoon rains last month and the heavy rains brought by Tropical Cyclone Ompong last week which made the area over saturated with water that triggered the occurrence of the huge landslide,” Gacad stressed.
The MGB-CAR official claimed that while mining could have been a contributory factor in the occurrence of the landslide incident, it could not be the major factor that triggered the slide incident because there were other aggravating factors, particularly the accumulated huge volume of water in the soil and the characteristics of the soil and rock formations in the place where they are highly weathered, fractured among others.
He asserted that the agency supports the conduct of an in-depth investigation on the real cause of the tragic incident that claimed the lives of innocent small-scale miners who sought refuge in the bunkhouse that was converted into a chapel by a Christian group.
Last month, the supposed monthly rainfall was only 905 milliliters but the recorded rainfall was over 1,600 milliliters following the occurrence of the month-long monsoon rains that prevailed in the city. In September, the projected monthly rainfall was 565 milliliters but during the onslaught of Tropical Storm Ompong, the rainfall recorded was around 920 milliliters for a 12-hour period that the weather disturbance prevailed in Northern Luzon last September 15, 2018.
In a statement released by BC management, the company underscored that the affected small scale miners whose shanties were swept by the landslide are illegally operating in the Company’s Antamok claims and that their illegal mining and gold processing activities in Antamok are without the permission of BC.
Following the suspension of its Antamok underground mining operation in 1992, and open pit mining operations in Antamok in 1997, BC pointed out that the small scale miners gradually encroached into the area despite the Company’s efforts to stop them and not even a mining moratorium issued by the DENR through then Secretary Lito Atienza in 2009 was able to curtail the unregulated small scale mining activities.
The company stated that numerous warnings have been issued by the Company over the years, criminal cases were filed and counter actions taken against the illegal miners to the point that BC even conducted blasting / blocking of portals but the tunnels were re-opened by the small scale miners afterwards, thus, the problem of illegal small scale mining affects the entire Itogon municipality and the ill effect of their illegal mining is the progressive degradation of the environment.
BC claimed that as early as 2000, the Company diligently gave notices to the small scale miners and their families occupying illegal structures in the vicinity of Antamok underground mine including the old bunkhouse near L070 portal in Ucab or who have built numerous shanties there, to vacate the area, only to have the notices totally ignored and resisted by them and that the entire area has been classified by MGB-CAR to be within geohazard zone and prone to landslides.”
Some over a thousand volunteers are now closely working together for the conduct of search, rescue and retrieval operations in the area wherein some 29 fatalities were already recovered from the debris while over 60 other individuals remain to be missing.