Editorial: Questions on Biga collapse

·3 min read

SEARCH and retrieval operations in Carmen Copper Corp.’s (CCC) Biga pit continue after some 480-meter bench collapsed into a watery portion at its foot some four days before Christmas.

Earlier on, engineers at the site had been closely monitoring the cracks in the vicinity, and reports said that on Dec. 21, the day of the big slide, that portion of the pit was already a restricted area. Despite the warning, some workers were still in the area as shown in a video that is now circulating on social media. The pit’s early warning device had detected ground movement and sounded off its alarm. A little past 3 p.m., workers were already told to leave the area, but must have felt no urgency as landslides in varying scales were commonplace. The big surprise was the enormity of earth that fell, the impact of which was made worse by the pool of accumulated water at the foot, throwing a big splash of muck and catching up with panicking workers who thought they were on safe distance.

Reports said a stakeholders’ Emergency Consultative Meeting in Barangay Biga took place on Nov. 26, 2020. The meeting was organized by the village council and was attended by representatives of the mining firm, local officials, residents, and personnel from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). Residents brought to the attention of the officials of the firm and MGB the presence of ground fissures.

A letter-sender to SunStar Cebu, Rener Suralta, who claimed he was in that meeting as representative of a public school in the area, said the residents requested the MGB to issue a temporary suspension of mining operations while they assess the extent of risk the fissures posed.

“The people, out of fear and anxiety, requested the temporary suspension of mining operations until the reason for the cracks will be explained. The mining firm was silent about the issue. The meeting ended unfortunately without resolution on any of the six-point agenda. The management and the MGB did not give any order for immediate suspension,” Suralta said.

If Suralta’s claims are true, the CCC and the MGB may have to find the urgency to disclose the steps it had taken between Nov. 26 and Dec. 21, the day of the landslide, which killed three people and buried a few others, to address the residents’ concerns.

The Mining Act of 1995, under its safety provisions, supposedly empowers the mines regional director to act on the residents’ concerns: “In case of imminent danger to life or property, the mines regional director may summarily suspend the mining or quarrying operations until the danger is removed, or appropriate measures are taken by the contractor or permittee.”

Meanwhile, the CCC had committed to help the families of the deceased and missing workers by giving them financial assistance and free education to the children until college. The firm also offered employment opportunities to the immediate kin of the victims.

These are all welcome show of accountability, but we hope this will translate to a revisit into the safety policies. Questions on whether or not the MGB might have been remiss in its role must also be asked.