ITOGON, Benguet – Residents, barangay officials and elders of barangay Poblacion here and the management of the Itogon Suyoc Resources, Inc. (ISRI) recently forged an agreement for the raising of the company’s tailings storage facility (TSF) by an additional four meters subject to compliance to the 16-point conditions imposed by the community for the realization of the project.
The agreement was signed by Poblacion Punong Barangay Alberto Carantes, Jr. and Poblacion, Itogon Indigenous Peoples Organization chairperson Andres Panayo representing the community and ISRI president and chief executive officer Engr. Luis R. Sarmiento and Vice-president for Geology and Exploration and Resident manager Dr. Eric S. Andal.
Witnesses to the signing of the agreement by the representatives of both parties were Mayor Bernard S. Waclin, Vice-mayor Dax Godio, other barangay officials and authorized elders and members of the indigenous peoples organization.
The 16-point conditions imposed by the community that should be complied by the company in the implementation of the dam-raising project by an additional 4 meters was a product of more than a year of consultations and negotiations between both parties on how to realize the project with the guaranteed safety of the community.
Under the 1994 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) of the former Itogon Suyoc Mines, Inc. (ISMI) and elders of barangay Poblacion, the company was allowed to put up its tailings pond to a maximum height of 980 meters. One of the conditions of this agreement is that when the level of the dam reaches 965 meters, the company is allowed to gradually increase the height of the dam up to a maximum of 15 meters which will be done in 3 stages where consultations with the community is required for every 5 meters increase in the dam height.
When ISMI ceased operations in the 1990s the dam height was approximately 965 meters which paved the new management, ISRI, to consult with the community for the increase in the dam height by the first 5 meters through a series of consultations with the community.
In 2021, majority of the community elders and residents voted in favor of the requested 5 meters increase in the dam height but the company must first work on the initial 1 meter subject to the imposed conditions to ascertain its commitment to fulfill its obligations with the community while separate consultations will be done for the additional 4 meters to complete the initial stage of the dam raising project.
Barangay Poblacion created the so-called TSF panel to spearhead the conduct of a series of consultations with the community that resulted to the crafting of a draft MOA that will entered into by and between the company, the barangay and the indigenous peoples organization which was presented to the community residents and leaders during last Sunday’s gathering.
Among the conditions of this agreement include the monitoring of the project, the provision of financial and technical assistance to the community, establishment of the environmental guarantee fund, priority for employment to qualified residents in the area, the designation of working areas for small-scale miners and the mutual respect for the rights of concerned parties.
Earlier, the multipartite monitoring team (MMT) and the community through the created TSF panel also requested the company to reinforce the stability of the dam by working on the anchor, the dam crest and the face of the facility to guarantee its stability while consultations for the raising of the dam by an additional 4 meters to complete the first stage will be done to ascertain the conditions of the villagers that will be incorporated in the agreement for the overall safety of the community.
On the proposal from the oppositors of the project to stop the ongoing works because this seems not to be in conformity with the present working conditions and in violation to what had been earlier agreed upon, the elders claimed that stopping the project is not within their jurisdiction as there are regulatory agencies that are in charge of regulating the conduct of mining and other related activities where such issues and concerns should be raised.
The TSF panel created by the barangay had been continuously undertaking consultations with the community on the realistic and measurable conditions that will be incorporated in the final MOA that will be signed by representatives of the concerned parties to pave the way for the implementation of the additional 4 meter-increase in the dam height of the ISRI’s Sangilo mine to ensure the safety of the community.
On the other hand, the barangay will form a monitoring committee that will be composed of technical people from the community to ensure that the implementation of the company’s dam enhancement project will be in compliance to the project specifications and standards as presented to the community during previous consultations.
Members of the technical team who are from the community appreciated the plans for the firm’s dam enhancement project but underscored the importance of the conduct of close monitoring to ensure that the project will be done pursuant to what had been presented to the community.
“We are grateful that we were able to hurdle the tedious process of securing the support of the community to our dam enhancement project. We hope that are harmonious working relationship with our stakeholders will be strengthened,” Dr. Andal stressed.
For his part, Mayor Waclin commended both parties for being able to find ways on how to come up with a ‘win-win’ solution to address the issues and concerns previously raised against the project and for coming out in the open to be transparent on the agreed conditions in relation of the dam raising project that will guarantee the overall safety of the community.
For his part, Vice-mayor Godio lauded the community and the company for having resolved the issues and concerns of the project within their ranks and did not elevate the matter to the municipal council or other concerned authorities which shows their maturity in willing to resolve issues and concerns besetting the project within their jurisdiction without these being elevated to other bodies that might continue to delay the implementation of the said project.