Tell it to SunStar: Toledo tragedy: The untold story

Renester P. Suralta
·4 min read

TO A company with a considerable length of business experience and with strict adherence to safety and security, can accidents happen?

Allow me to narrate the series of events that happened or the way I knew it happened before the fateful tragedy.

On November 26, 2020, I was one of the invited persons to attend the Emergency Consultative Meeting of Barangay Biga. I represented the little school on the prairie. The program sponsored by the Village Council was attended by Carmen Copper Management, local officials, residence, and representative of Mines Geosciences Bureau (MGB). The mining operation is at the heart of Barangay Biga in Lutopan Toledo City.

There were six main point agenda of the meeting two of which were about the several cracks discovered on the ground of the mining area and the request of the local residents for livelihood as mandated in the Mining Act of 1995.

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. The village chief out of frustration announced he will elevate the issue to the Office of the President 100 days after.

So the mining operation continued until the tragic accident on December 21. Around 4 p.m., local miners in a drenched environment lost their lives, others missing due to slope landslides. CCC blamed the tragedy on the “incessant rains for the past several months.”

MGB’s suspension order of CCC’s mining operation came, but too late because many mineworkers were already dead. The tragedy probably could have been avoided if the mining operation was suspended early. This is not the first time a mining accident happened in the area. Many years ago, 14 mine workers were also declared missing and presumed dead.

The wide cracks on the ground are now taken very seriously. Hence, the Toledo Mayor ordered pre-emptive forced evacuation within a 500-meter radius to avert disaster. The following evacuation sites were recommended: La Salle Recreation ground, Makatol Elementary School, and Hag-it Covered Court. Many residents, however, find the evacuation site very far and away from their homes.

At the same time, there is an old miners’ story that beneath the Biga village is old abandoned mining underground so huge like a city. Whether it’s a fact or myth, MGB people should also look into it. If the story is true, then the people are living on the edge.

While the “Iumad” lost their farming livelihood because of wanton mining operations in the area, local miners lost their lives. While outlanders earn their living in this second biggest mining company in Asia, the natives of the village lost their resources and opportunity to work forever.

Are the mining tax and revenues worth it? Can the considerable amount of mineral royalties compensate for the lives lost and restore environmental destruction? The large area of once beautiful agricultural land of Biga is now barren and a wasteland because of the half-century-old mining industry.

We haven’t learned from what happened in Naga, Cebu landslide a few years back. The property damage can be settled but not the lives lost. Was justice served to the landslide victims?

Who is always responsible for any mining accident? Is it nature or man? Who is at fault? Is it the bad weather or the safety engineer?

Accidents may happen in the workplace but it can also be avoided. We can’t discount the fact that accidents can happen because of unsafe supervision, lack of situation awareness, and failure to identify the potential threat. That’s the job of the safety engineer under the direction and supervision of sympathetic and responsible management. If workers are dying frequently then responsible mining is a big issue.

There is another lesson to be learned in the Toledo mining tragedy. We should never compromise safety and security. We can’t always blame nature out of man’s folly. One should think that the mining industry provides short-term revenue but long term harmful effect on nature and the environment. Life is much precious than copper and gold.