ITOGON, Benguet – Benguet Corporation (BC) expressed its surprise and takes exception to the findings and recommendation of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to suspend the company due to non-rehabilitation of the Antamok open pit when in fact it has continuously exerted efforts to initiate projects including converting it into a Bulk Water Project (BWP), and entertaining the proposal of the City government of Baguio to convert it into a Waste to Energy facility.
Earlier, local government units (LGUs) have in fact requested and endorsed the proposal for the open pit site to become the permanent location of an integrated solid waste disposal facility, which includes the put up of an engineered sanitary landfill and a waste to energy plant, signing Memoranda of Agreement with BC as early as June 2016.
While the company recognizes there was a delay in the rehabilitation of the open pit for reasons beyond its control, it has not abandoned it.
BC operated the Antamok Gold Mine in 1903 as the first commercial underground gold operation in the Benguet Mineral District here with zero mining accidents. In the early 1980s, in view of low gold price, high production costs, and declining ore grades, the company developed the open pit mining method to maximize the low-grade ore.
When the grades continued to decline, BC suspended the Antamok mine in 1997 due to declining market prices but it nevertheless started rehabilitation efforts in the area. BC immediately started working on the progressive rehabilitation of the mined-out areas. It submitted to MGB and DENR in 1997 a plan to convert the open pit into a water reservoir to supply treated bulk water to Itogon Municipality and Baguio City.
The company participated and won the bidding for Bulk Water Project (BWP) conducted by the Baguio Water District (BWD) in 2003. The local governments supported the initiative from the start. Its feasibility study showed the open pit has the capacity to supply 59 million liters a day which can greatly address the water shortage needs of Itogon and Baguio City. The BWP was accepted as part of the rehabilitation of the Antamok Open Pit and BC was ready to implement when BWD canceled the contract it awarded to BC. This forced the company to file a mandamus case against BWD. Because of the delay, the economic parameters changed and affected the viability of the project as a whole.
In early 2015, the company revived discussions with the mayors of Itogon, and Baguio regarding the BWP. Agreements with both local government units have been signed to start the review of the project, with BC designated as a member of the Technical Working Group created by the Office of the Mayor of Baguio City. Aside from the open pit, the company is finalizing with MGB-CAR its rehabilitation plans for other areas of Antamok such as Engineered Sanitary Landfill for Camote pit and Minahang Bayan for the Antamok underground.
These projects will serve the waste management need and solve the small-scale mining problem of Itogon. Both projects have already interested partner-contractors who are conducting due diligence on these projects.
The company remains committed to the rehabilitation of Antamok. It is well aware of its obligations as a responsible mining company. As an ISO: 14001 certified company, it has always been a step ahead in the implementation of rehabilitation projects that will redound to the benefits of the communities where it operates.
However, BC resident manager Antonio Buenavista admitted that the company has yet to receive any official notice or order from the office of the DENR regarding the recommendation for suspension.