CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Mining blamed for Philippine landslide tragedy

MANILA (UCAN): Environmental advocates have blamed mining operations for landslides that have reportedly killed dozens of people in the northern Philippines in the wake of the brutal Super Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong).
 
Conflicting reports from government agencies said at least 100 people may have been killed in a landslide in Itogon town in Benguet province. Miners who stayed in an old bunkhouse were buried in mud after a mountain slope collapsed due to heavy rains on September 15 (Sunday Examiner, September 23).
 
Town officials said that at least 19 bodies were recovered as of September 18, while 59 others were still missing.
 
Army spokesperson, Colonel Louie Villanueva, however, said there were 39 fatalities while 65 others were feared buried under the mud.
 
However, Edgar Posadas, spokesperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the confirmed number of dead from the typhoon remained at eight, six of them in Itogon town. He added that figures were subject to validation and confirmation.
 
Anti-mining advocate Jaybee Garganeram, of the Alliance to Stop Mining, said illegal mining activities, which have been tolerated by big mining companies, are to blame for the disaster.
 
He said that although Philippine mining giant, the Benguet Corporation, claimed it had stopped operations at its Itogon site “their contract is still live.”
 
The mine was abandoned in 2009 after the government ordered a ban on all mining activities, but small-scale miners continued to operate in the area.
 
Garganera said the mining sites in effect remain open, with illegal miners selling their ore to middlemen, who in turn sell it on to the original mining firm.
 
In the wake of the disaster, Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, admitted that he was helpless regarding problems posed by mining in the country.
 
“I cannot stop mining because I’m not allowed to abrogate any law here. But I want to stop it because it has created a monster,” he said at a media briefing on September 18.
 
He said his economic advisers would not like the idea of closing down the mining industry as it generates about US$1.3 billion ($10.2 billion) in earnings a year.
 
“A time must come when our motherland is overused and abused, and this cannot go on,” Duterte said, adding that he would have to talk to Congress in the coming days. 
 
“I will really tell (legislators), ‘We have to close the mining industry or better still plan a period and give Mother Earth a respite (from) the continued and endless digging,’” the president said.
 
Following Duterte’s pronouncement, an infrastructure-oriented think-tank dared the president to make good on the statement.
 
“Unless the mining industry can undertake strict standards to prevent the loss of lives and environmental destruction, the sun should finally set on mining in the Philippines,” Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch PH, said.
 
He said the absence of strict regulations has caused numerous problems, including instances in which small-scale mining groups are undertaking large-scale operations.
 
Anti-mining advocates called responsible mining a myth.
 
“There is a long list of evidence and documentation that illustrate the violations and non-compliance of mining companies in their operations,” Garganera said.
 
The advocate cited a book co-published by the Caritas Philippines that documented this.
 
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said the book, Peoples Mine Audit, documenting violations and non-compliance of large-scale mining projects in the Philippines, will be distributed to diocesan centres all over the country.
 
“It is important that the destructive effects of mining will be shared (with) the people to show to affected communities that the whole country is also affected,” the priest said.

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