Biga chief claims pleas ignored before landslide

Wenilyn Sabalo
·4 min read

BARELY a month before a deadly landslide hit a mining pit in Barangay Biga, Toledo City last Dec. 21, 2020, residents sought the help of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to temporarily halt the mining operations of Carmen Copper Corp. (CCC) after large cracks were discovered in their village.

But the appeal reportedly fell on deaf ears.

Biga Barangay Captain Pedro Sepada Jr. told SunStar Cebu on Tuesday, Dec. 29, that prior to the landslide, barangay officials called for an emergency consultative meeting on Nov. 26 with representatives of the CCC, MGB 7 and Biga residents to discuss possible measures to be undertaken after the cracks were sighted.

He said among those who attended were MGB 7 Director Armando Malicse and CCC vice president for safety and community Ignas Alburo.

Sepada said they also sent an invitation to the Toledo City government but no representative came.

During the meeting, Sepada said they were not given a concrete response or alternative solution by both the MGB and the CCC to ensure the residents’ safety while the mining operations continued.

Sepada said they were instead simply told by MGB 7 and CCC officials that their place remained safe.

Residents now believe the huge cracks caused the landslide that claimed the lives of four miners. Six others remain missing.

“It was only after the landslide last Dec. 24, that they declared our area to be unsafe within a radius of 600-meter distance from the pipeline of Carmen Copper. They now say it’s unsafe. Now whatever happened to their guarantee of safety before?” he asked in Cebuano.

SunStar Cebu tried to get the side of MGB 7 but calls to Malicse remained unanswered as of this writing.

SunStar Cebu also sought the comment of CCC, but the mining firm’s representatives had yet to respond to the queries as of press time.

Needed presence ‘unclear’

John Roseller Layan, Toledo City public information officer, said the office of Mayor Marjorie Perales was furnished a copy of the barangay’s invitation for a meeting addressed to the MGB 7.

But Layan said they were unable to send a representative as it was not clear if their presence was necessary since the letter was not addressed to Perales.

“But it’s true they copy furnished the Office of the Mayor, but the letter was not addressed to the Mayor. Only copy furnished,” Layan said in Cebuano.

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the Provincial Government will not conduct its own investigation and will, instead, wait for the MGB probe to end before implementing a course of action.

Garcia also said she will leave it up to the MGB 7 to decide whether or not the CCC has any liability.

“The investigation, that is not our expertise nor is that our mandate. MGB has already issued a suspension of operations and MGB is going to undertake the investigation. So let’s put things in proper perspective. While the investigation is ongoing, perhaps it is best to wait for the results,” Garcia said.

Garcia also warned those reportedly using the landslide incident to push their own agenda to tread lightly.

“I am not taking any sides. I want to be as objective as possible. However, there are some personalities that are not as objective because they have their own interest in Carmen Copper. They want to control so that they can do business with Carmen Copper. So this is a warning to those who want to make it difficult,” Garcia said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Garcia said the CCC mining operations have given jobs and helped develop Toledo City.

Garcia said there is a need to thoroughly investigate the matter as she does not want those with their own “personal interest” in the mining operations of CCC to ruin the lives of so many people working there.

She assured the Province will provide help to the families of miners who have died and those who remain missing after the landslide.

Search and retrieval

Meanwhile, Layan said the search and retrieval operations continue for the six remaining missing workers.

Both water and land retrieval operations have been launched using sonar technology.

Food packs, evacuation tents, and stress debriefing have also been given to 400 families living near the collapsed portion of the open pit who were evacuated to a multipurpose court in Biga’s sitio of Hag-it.

Mayor Perales also directed the City’s Housing Board to look for a permanent housing relocation site should the MGB 7 recommend the permanent relocation of affected residents.

Sought for comment, Sepada said he is against the permanent relocation of residents and would rather the CCC just restore the area with cracks and stop its mining operations.

Sepada lamented that he was somehow confused because ever since the landslide, the City has still not called for a meeting between barangay officials, the CCC and the MGB 7. (JOB, ANV / JKV)