MANILA - (UPDATED) Benguet Corporation should be held liable for the landslide that killed at least 19 miners in the mountain town of Itogon, Benguet, an anti-mining advocate said Wednesday.
The mining firm earlier said it has already suspended its operations in Barangay Ucab but small-scale miners resisted their orders to stop.
But Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina, said Benguet Corporation's statement was only a "half truth" and the firm may even be profiting from the illegal mining in the area.
"Benguet Corporation claims they stopped doing work there. Okay, that's only a half-truth. Their contract is still live. They should have started rehab, decommissioning, and closure procedures in the Antamok mines more than 10 years ago," he told ANC.
In response, Benguet Corporation stressed that it never allowed illegal mining operations there. The company added that not even a DENR moratorium in 2009 was able to stop the unregulated mining activities.
"What are the facts? The affected small-scale miners whose shanties were swept by the landslide are illegally operating in the company's Antamok claims. Their illegal mining and gold processing activities in Antomok are without permission of BC," it said in a statement.
Miners who stayed in an old bunkhouse of the Benguet Corporation during the onslaught of typhoon Ompong were buried in mud after a softened slope of the mountain collapsed due to heavy rains.
Garganera said Benguet Corporation's mining sites remain open for years, luring illegal miners who sell their ore to middlemen who in turn may be selling these to the mining firm.
He added the environment department should also be held accountable. "If that mine is already for rehab, decommissioning, closure, it shouldn't have taken 5 years. But it's already over 10 years," he said.
Duterte urged to ban open-pit mining
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already ordered the stoppage of all small-scale mining in Cordillera following the fatal landslides in the region.
Mayor Victorio Palangdan, who has been blaming mining for the landslides, also vowed to stop all illegal mining operation in his town.
But Garganera said President Rodrigo Duterte should "walk the talk" and issue an executive order to once and for all ban open-pit mining in the country.
He said there should be no regrets on tightening policies in the mining industry that only accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
"It doesn't make sense that we are prioritizing an industry that contributes less than 1 percent to our economy and puts at risk agriculture, tourism, forestry, and fisheries," he said.
Garganera added that compared to mining, the industries of agriculture, tourism, forestry, and fisheries are contributing 17 to 20 percent to the country's economy.
He is also hoping Duterte will certify as urgent the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, a new measure that will make sure that mining will not compromise the environment.