July 1, 2009
The Cordillera Peoples Alliance is issuing this story, following the
recent environmental disaster in Mankayan, Benguet. July 26, 2009 marks
the 10th year since the massive sinking, landslide and ground subsidence
in Colalo Mankayan. Ten years after in the same province, the sinking and
subsidence takes place in another barangay. More than ever, residents fear
for their lives, knowing that no one is safe in Mankayan.
Lepanto: Shattering its Own Myth of Safe and Responsible Mining
Edna (*not her real name) is near tears. The sinking in Colalo, Mankayan
in 1999 remains fresh and real in her memory—and so does the fear it
caused her and her family. “Wherever I am—in my vegetable garden at work
or being here in front of you today—I am never at peace knowing that
anytime, another disaster will happen. I think of my children who are now
in school. What if the ground will suddenly collapse and sink again, like
it did last June 5?”
In a press conference and briefing before the media, residents of Mankayan
conveyed how the massive and disastrous ground subsidence on June 5, 2009
in Brgy. Poblacion, Mankayan, had affected their daily lives—and how
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s (LCMC) underground bulk mining
remains responsible for the environmental disasters in the said northern
municipality of Benguet due to over 73 years of corporate mining. Ten
years ago in Barangay Colalo, also in Mankayan, the management of LCMC
simply dismissed the massive sinking and landslides as “an act of God.”
Ground subsidence and sinking in Mankayan was first observed by residents
as early as 1972, in two sites: the Mankayan Central School and along the
Magumbang Creek both in Barangay Poblacion. Other sites that were reported
to have sunk included areas of the Mankayan National Highschool and a
large portion of Aurora Street. Copper and gold deposits were mined under
these areas from 1969 to 1995. As early as this time, Lepanto’s
underground blasting along Upper Tram, Stopes 35GH and 30 H of Level 1100
and Level 1070, was suspected as one of the causes of subsidence.
LCMC started to operate in Mankayan in 1936. But as early as 1850, the
colonial authorities in Manila sent a mining engineer to Mankayan to
examine the Igorot’s copper mines therein. Seventy-one troops accompanied
the engineer. In 1856, launch the operations of the Sociedad
Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan with 120 Chinese
immigrant workers and a Mexican smelter. Bearing high grade ore, Mankayan,
from the onset, was a mining haven.
Residents observed prominent cracks above the LCMC’s quarry site for
Tailings Dam 5A at Colalo Proper on July 21, 1999. The quarry site was
where land was dug out of Colalo and Cabiten barangays for the dam crest
of Tailings Dam 5A. The said tailings dam was constructed between the two
barangays. The cracks were noticed at farms above the quarrying site, near
the Colalo Elementary School and along the Mankayan-Cervantes National
Road. Sensing danger, barangay officials requested LCMC to observe the
cracks but the company ignored this request.
LCMC was allowed to build Tailings Dam 5A right at the middle of two
villages, where people live. The tailings dam catches hazardous substances
from the mine operations.
On July 25, people started to evacuate from their homes to safer grounds.
School facilities were transported as well. The barangay council and the
Parents-Teachers Association decided to suspend classes to ensure the
children’s safety. The following day, July 26, a large portion of Colalo
Proper above the quarry site sunk and eroded, totally damaging the
elementary school, four homes, a portion of the road, several farms and
orchards and other improvements. The sinking affected at least 10 hectares
of land. Local resident Pablo Gomez, 36 years old, married and with five
children, was buried alive while transporting school facilities to higher
ground. Residents immediately searched for Gomez for over a week, but
Gomez’ body was never found. On August 8, a symbolic “burial service” was
conducted for Gomez.
On the same month, then Congressman Ronald Cosalan initiated an inquiry
through the Congressional Committee on Environment. Here, barangay
officials and residents attested that the sinking and ground subsidence
was due mainly to the mining activities of LCMC, and the construction of
Tailings Dam 5A, which locals claimed to have made the land softer, thus
more prone to erosion and slides.
The sinking went down by about 550 meters and by some 400 meters by
Tailings Dam 5A, devastating some 14 hectares of land.
NIGS Independent Investigation
The National Institute of
Geological Studies at the University of the Philippines was tapped to
conduct an independent investigation on the Colalo sinking. The
Institute’s findings stated that the sinking was due to man-made and
natural causes, the natural causes being attributed to geological
characteristics of the locality and the heavy rains. On the other hand,
the Institute reported that mining activities have caused a rise in the
water table elevation and the removal of basal support. The investigation
corroborated the opinion of residents on the causes of the sinking. The
Institute further stated in its findings that man-made causes, immediate
of which is LCMC’s mining activities, caused the sinking and erosion” The
removal of slope support is a natural consequence of underground mining
which in turn can cause subsidence in any area.” The report added that
mining “exacerbated the negative conditions already existent in the area.”
The NIGS investigation made several recommendations, including reopening
of the abandoned or sealed tunnels of LCMC which lie below the Mankayan
Central School, conduct of follow-up and detailed structural and geologic
mapping of the subsidence area and monitoring of the subsidence rates,
among others. The team of geologists requested copies of the underground
maps from then Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna. No maps reached the
team up to the time the report was written.
“Mankayan is Hollow”
Engr. Vergel Aniceto, spokesperson of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action
Network (BMAAN), explained to local media how Mankayan had become hollow
due to LCMC’s long years of underground bulk mining. “Bulk mining simply
means open pit operations inside the mountains, which the company had not
backfilled, contrary to its claims. Abra River is evidence to this, as it
is heavy with siltation. Where else would the runoff and siltation come
from?” he said.
He added further that, as per findings of the NIGS 10 years ago on the
locality’s geological characteristics, MGB should already disallow further
expansion and operations from Lepanto. “The rockbeds are slipping—they are
not properly positioned. This should give MGB more reason to prohibit any
more mining operations”, he said, adding that LCMC should already divulge
its mine plan so that Mankayan residents will see for themselves and that
proper and immediate relocation be carried out.
Former LCMC mineworker Vicente Dilem supported Aniceto’s explanation. “I
have seen and worked in the underground operations, that is why I do not
at all believe MGB’s claim that mining had nothing to do with the
subsidence”, he said. Dilem explained how high technology loaders were
used in Levels 1100 and 1050 to mine the high-grade copper in the
company’s Victoria I project. When the world market for copper plunged,
LCMC abandoned the un-backfilled underground operations.
“The un-backfilled stopes are exactly where the Mankayan National High
School lies”, he said.
To date, LCMC has remained mum about the June 5 sinking in Poblacion.
Ironically, MGB has been on the defense, saying that mining is not to
blame as it is not the sole cause of the sinking. Parallel to LCMC’s
denial of any accountability to the disasters, MGB has maintained a record
of consistently siding with the company and covering up for the former’s
Mining and Militarization
Colalo Punong Barangay Ambino Padawi challenged the MGB to disclose the
truth to the people of Mankayan, adding that one purpose of the deployment
of the 50th Infantry Battalion in their hometown is to sow fear and terror
to the people’s opposition. “The military must now be pulled out of
Mankayan because it is not serving us any good,” he said.
The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the CPA have dialogued
twice with the 50th IB in Bulalacao, together with the local elders, and
LGUs, due to complaints made by local residents on human rights violations
and the harassment and intimidation of MAQUITACDG organizers in the area.
Even the regional office of government’s Commission on Human Rights
present in one of the dialogues stated that the 50th IB’s mere presence in
the area is militarization, and that it must immediately vacate the
Barangay Day Care Center where its troops were staying.
Residents reported that soldiers have been conducting surveys with
questionnaires asking if they belong to any organization like the CPA, and
which partylists have they voted for in the past elections. During these
“surveys”, troops were in full battle gear causing fear among the people.
In several incidents, the 50th IBPA aggressively took videos and photos of
their suspected members and supporters of the CPA. The 50th IBPA did not
deny their taking of videos and photos of the residents. A certain Sgt.
Macasiray even confidently admitted that the taking of video or photos of
the residents is legal under the Human Security Act and such shall be used
for the filing of future charges under the said law.
In the month of May, the 50th IB conducted film showings in different
areas, which maliciously labels, tags and demonizes progressive,
legitimate and legal organizations and party lists, the CPA included, and
its allied organizations as sectoral fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. In one
brazen attack, elements of the 50th IBPA posted in Mankayan Poblacion
“IBAGSAK ANG KILUSANG MAYO UNO, K-ILUSANG M-AGTATANGGAL SA U-NG TRABAHO”
during the May 1 celebration of the International Labor Day.
Macasiray rationalized that their presence is part of their “Community
Outreach Program (COP)”, which aims to bring the AFP near the hearts of
the people by providing alleged socio-economic projects. The 50th IB is
headed by Lt. Rashid Avila. It is the same military unit that terrorized
in Pananuman, Tubo, Abra province from March to April 2008. The intense
military activities—bombing, mortar shelling—resulted in economic
dislocation of the Maeng indigenous community, desecration of the dap-ay,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and the summary execution of a senior
citizen, Mariano Galisen.
CPA iterates the 50th IB’s immediate pullout from Mankayan—because
wherever it is deployed, it will replicate and worsen what it did in Tubo,
Abra. It will not think twice of wreaking havoc, hurting and killing
State of Calamity, Danger Zone
The sinking in Poblacion on
June 5 had initially directly affected 10 households. Eight families were
immediately evacuated. At least 10 meters had sunk near the premises of
St. Joseph Parish and the main grounds of the Mankayan National Highschool.
With the continuing sinking and landslides, the provincial government had
declared the municipality in a state of calamity.
In 2000, other sinking areas
included Tabak, Bulalacao and Sapid, while fissures yearly occur at the
Mankayan-Cervantes Road. In April 2009, a portion of the slaughter house
in Brgy. Poblacion sunk after fissures gradually formed. LCMC was even in
hot waters recently because of the asbestos dumping from its head office
in Makati in Brgy. Sapid, as early as 2007. Mankayan Mayor Manalo Galuten
had the asbestos waste tested for chemicals, and was found to contain the
cancer-causing chemical amosite, which causes the cancer mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma affects the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart. Galuten lamented
that after LCMC had dug their mountains for gold, the company backfilled
it with hazardous substances.
LCMC’s brazen arrogance is highly condemnable. Are the people of Sapid any
less different such that LCMC can just turn their village into a dump
Enough of the Disasters, Save
Lepanto and the MGB have
attributed the environmental calamities to naturally occurring events such
as movements of fault lines and even heaven’s will, but the people of
Mankayan know for a fact that it is the years of underground bulk mining
that has caused the land subsidence and sinking, and these are only
hastened by natural phenomena such as strong rains and typhoons. LCMC and
MGB posture as if they have a monopoly of the scientific explanations. As
a matter of fact, MGB and LCMC are running out of arguments that they have
resorted to claiming that the disasters are an “act of God.” The more that
Lepanto and MGB defend themselves, the more they expose their desperation
to cover up their accountability to the disasters.
A culture of impunity pervades in relation to the human rights violations
and environmental disasters LCMC is responsible of, that as if it is
immune from penalty. MGB has served as Lepanto’s mouthpiece every time a
disaster happens—an act that shows its effort to cover up its liabilities
for the Mankayan environmental disasters. It is actually high time for MGB
to be evaluated of its duties and functions, especially since it has
allowed the environmental disasters to happen in Mankayan, even if it
already knows the geological nature of the locality. Mankayan is not an
isolated case. Only last year, a horrendous landslide happened in Itogon,
Benguet due to the prolonged open pit and underground mining operations of
Benguet corporation. In other regions, environmental disasters have also
taken place as a result: Rapu-rapu where Lafayette operated in 2005, and
in Marinduque where Marcopper created the country’s latest mining
disaster, in 1996.
CPA appeals for urgent action to the local governments of Mankayan and
Benguet, other sectors and government line agencies to ensure that further
catastrophe will not befall Mankayan. The security of the people of
Mankayan is an urgent concern. Immediate humanitarian aid and response is
needed, and we appeal to all individuals, organizations and sectors to
help save Mankayan. While we appeal to the public for support to the
people of Mankayan, we hold LCMC responsible for all the environmental
disasters, the social cost of its operations, and the historic injustice
to the ancestral land rights of Cordillera indigenous peoples due to its
plunder and exploitation.
Lepanto shattered its own myth of safe and responsible mining. It is a
classic case that proves the fallacy of an extractive industry like mining
to socially responsible. Now, with LCMC and MGB’s accountabilities to the
people of Mankayan, the only justice that can be done is to have the
mining operations be put to a permanent stop, and let the people of
Mankayan have prior use and management of their ancestral land and
resources. # Cordillera Peoples Alliance Public Information Commission
RP’s Biggest Gold Miner Accused of Dumping Hazardous Waste. GMANews.TV
March 14, 2009
University of the Philippines Report National Institute of Geological
Sciences: Report on the Mankayan Sinking. 1999.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance Fact Sheet: Colalo Sinking August 1999.