MANILA - Mining in Itogon, Benguet is partly to blame for the landslides that have killed dozens of people in the area so far, the point person assigned by President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday.
Seventy-five people died while some 39 people remain missing in the northern Luzon province after the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong, said Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Francis Tolentino.
Mining "exacerbated the human-induced activities in a landslide-prone area" which was also "enhanced" by the rain brought about by Ompong, said Tolentino.
To prevent another occurrence of a deadly landslide, Tolentino seeks to have reforestation and "total evacuation" of the area, which has been declared a "danger zone" since 2009.
He also wants legislation that the release of local government unit’s internal revenue allotment (IRA) should be linked to compliance with geo-hazard maps and environmental preparedness as inscribed in circulars from national agencies.
"There should be an IRA intercept if a local head is not complying with the circulars coming from Phivolcs, DENR. Otherwise we will suffer the same fate. The worst is yet to come for LGUs not complying," he told ANC's Headstart.
There should also be a community rehabilitation plan for the mining sites, he said.
"If a corporate mining venture enters a locality, it should not just be limited to a certain amount of insurance fund that will cover for disasters like what transpired. It should be answerable, not just for the community but to the environment per se," he said.
"If you mine 1 square meter now, tomorrow you rehab 1 square meter. You do not wait for the expiration of mining license because if you wait for 20, 25 years, the damage has been done and it will take time to reforest, revegetate mining areas after 25 years," he added.
Tolentino, who was once a mayor and chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, said while he acknowledges the effort by Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan at the height of the calamity, the local executive still needed to do his duty to his people.
Asked if he thought the local government could be blamed for turning a blind eye to small-scale mining in their area, Tolentino said: "I would say so."
"When it comes to human life, the front liner is the local chief executive. Even though there may be finger-pointing, the community there, the mayor is answerable to them," he said.
He said the local government should have provided more evacuation sites as most of the individuals killed in the landslide were not Itogon-natives who chose not to leave their bunkhouses as Ompong raged on because they did not have nearby relatives to stay with.
Northern Luzon, still reeling from the havoc of Ompong, is now bracing for the possible effect of Typhoon Paeng which is expected to traverse the same path.
President Duterte has reiterated his call to end all mining activities in the country following the devastation in the region.