What is going on in Itogon?


Ma. Isabel Ongpin

IT is very distressing to get news every few weeks that small scale miners have died in Itogon, Benguet province. This week two have died and in the past six months I estimate at least eight have died. This area seems to have widespread small-scale mining activities and regularly reports deaths from them. Despite these repeated fatalities, there seems to be no follow-up on how to prevent them. It shows that there are no regulations being implemented regarding safety. In this vein, it makes one wonder if there are any death benefits given in the aftermath of such tragedy.

To begin with, small-scale mining is not as small as the name implies. There are many involved, including the financiers or capitalists who provide the wages in return for the gold ore. They make the profits, those who dig and die, don’t. The actual miners get daily wages which are also not regulated. They do not have the financial means to process gold ore, i.e. transporting the ore, milling it, then extracting the metal (using poisonous chemicals usually). Financiers handle the capital needs for these processes and do not concern themselves with how safe the mining sites are, how environmentally friendly, or even if they are legal.

Itogon is the scene of environmental disaster every time heavy rains hit the area. Landslides, rockfalls, flash floods are the order of the day. See last week’s news and photos of these environmental disasters – mud and flash floods on the highways, landslides precariously threatening houses, transport and communication disruption.

Apparently, small-scale miners need only get permits from the local government who gives them out willy-nilly to constituents, friends, relatives, and the people who want to do business with the local executives.

It is obviously a very unregulated undertaking, judging by the tragic results in mortality and environmental
destruction. Removing trees, foliage, rocks and other material, especially in slopes, causes landslides in the event of heavy rain, earthquake and even human activity. In fact, it is definitely not sustainable mining when the environment is destroyed or becomes destructive because of mindlessly abusing it.

From what is observable in Itogon, aside from unregulated mining is unregulated building of structures in perilous areas. More than once, the results have been sinkholes, landslides, collapsed houses and such. Again, a reflection of the lack of order in this municipality.

If nothing is done, there will be more accidents, destruction, and deaths.

The DENR seems to be totally focused on the big mining companies, but it should also be aware of, and endeavor to deal with, the small-scale miners because both can create havoc on our environment. In truth, without laying down the regulatory norms that have to be followed, small-scale mining will destroy the environment as lethally as the big mines that practice unsustainable mining.

Perhaps the suggestion that the protection of the environment and the regulation of industries that use the environment, being two independent activities, should be separately run by two different government departments is an idea whose time has come. Thus, a Cabinet office for the comprehensive protection and regulation of the general environment should be juxtaposed with a Cabinet office that regulates the commercial and industrial activities that take place in it. Both should have the synergy to manage protection and sustainable use together.

Meanwhile, it is time the agencies concerned like the Philippine National Police, and the DENR investigate what is going on in Itogon and give the information, apply the rules, and impose order. If necessary, based on their findings, legislation and the rules and regulations to implement them should be put in place.


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