“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

Church official seeks justice for Itogon deaths

Rescuers look for people who were buried by landslide in Brgy. Ucab in Itogon town, Benguet, caused by typhoon Ompong that barreled through Northern Luzon on September 15, 2018. CIRIACO SANTIAGO, CSsR

MANILA, September 19, 2018–Known environment advocate Father Edwin Gariguez has called for accountability over the landslide that claimed dozens of lives in the mountains of Itogon in Benguet province.

Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines, blamed no other but the mining company that supposedly left the area in a poor state.

“We need to make mining companies accountable. Justice means reparation for the damages,” Gariguez said.

As far as he is concerned, the priest said that the Benguet Corporation should be held liable since its operations put the community vulnerable to landslides.

The site was among the 23 mining operations ordered closed by former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez for non-compliance with environmental laws in 2017.

The area, he claimed, was supposed to be rehabilitated but the mining firm allegedly subcontracted small miners to continue operation.

“The community became even more vulnerable to disasters because of destructive mining activities of Benguet Corp.,” said Gariguez.

The priest mourned the miners who were buried in the landslide due to heavy rains unleashed by typhoon Ompong.
As of Sept. 19, rescuers have recovered 19 bodies of about 70 miners and their families believed buried in the muddy avalanche.

Following the tragedy, environment chief Roy Cimatu on Sept. 17 ordered a stop to all small-scale mining operations in the whole of Cordillera Administrative Region.

Gariguez said the DENR should be at the forefront in efforts to hold the mining firm accountable.

“But, more often, the DENR is on the side of mining companies, not with the poor communities,” he said.

Anti-mining group Alyansa Tigil Mina believes that Cimatu has the obligation to enforce to closure and suspension against the 26 mining operations that violated environmental laws. 

Jaybee Garganera, ATM national coordinator, said that many of these mining firms even failed to comply with their own contractual obligations or conditionalities attached to their mining permits. 

It will be recalled that Cimatu, upon assuming his post, has ordered the Mining Industry Coordinating Council to review the closure orders. 

The MICC has reportedly completed its technical review process in July and is recommending the lifting or reversal of 22 of the closure and suspension orders. (Roy Lagarde / CBCPNews)

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