IBON: Coal pit accident another point for junking Mining Act

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Semirara open pit coal mine

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The death of at least six coal miners, who were buried by a landslide in Antique on Friday (July 17), again underscored the risks that large-scale mining poses to both human lives and the environment, research group IBON Foundation said in a statement posted on its website on Sunday (July 19).

"This should compel government to repeal Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995," IBON said. "The law has allowed the operation of big local and foreign corporations in large-scale mining nationwide, undermining farming and indigenous communities and compromising the Philippine environment."

The landslide on Friday caused the north wall of the Semirara Panian open mine pit to collapse, burying nine workers — six of them confirmed dead, while three others remained missing.

READ: 6 killed, 3 missing in Semirara mining mishap

This is the second major accident at the Panian pit. On February 14, 2013, the west wall of the same pit collapsed, killing at least five miners.

The mine, which IBON said is the country's largest coal producer, is owned by Semirara Mining & Power Corp., a subsidiary of DMCI Holdings, Inc.

Shortly after Friday's accident, the Department of Energy (DOE) ordered Semirara to suspend its operations pending an investigation.

Semirara issued the following statement:

"Management has condoled with the families of the victims and is giving them full support.

"It is also coordinating with national and local authorities to keep them updated on the search and rescue efforts and other necessary measures including ensuring the adequate supply of coal for power generation since it has stopped operations in the affected area in compliance with an order from the Department of Energy.

"The company is investigating the cause of the accident in coordination with authorities."

'Full responsibility'

A day after, Senators Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda issued statements calling for a thorough probe of the incident and urging the government and mining companies to work together to put in place tougher measures to ensure the safety of miners.

Both lawmakers issued similar statements shortly after the 2013 incident.

“Safety in coal mining is always an issue," Legarda said in a statement posted on her website on Sunday. There are environmental impacts as well as health and safety implications to the workers."

She added: "Semirara Mining Corporation was given a license to operate an open pit mining facility, it is their responsibility to comply with occupational and safety standards. On the other hand, government agencies, particularly the DOE, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must strictly enforce safety standards on these mining sites.”

Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, made a similar call in a statement posted on his website.

"We need to create safer conditions for workers in the mining industry," he said.

He said investigations should also focus on labor and occupational safety and standards in mining sites to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

“The conditions that allowed the accident must not go unpunished," he added. "Those who are responsible will have to assume full responsibility.”

'String of mining disasters'

IBON said the Semirara accidents were just part of a string of mining disasters since the enactment of Republic Act 7942.

The group cited the following incidents:

In September 1995, the dam foundation of the tailings pond at the copper and gold project the Manila Mining Corp. collapsed, killing at least 12 people.

In 1996, the Marcopper Mining Corp. site in Marinduque spilled an estimated 2 to 3 million cubic meters of tailings, causing 1,200 residents to evacuate. The tailings also contaminated the Makulaquit and Boac River systems and and isolated five villages with flash floods.

From 2005 to 2007, Lafayette Philippines Inc. saw mining disasters in Rapu-Rapu, Albay, involving toxic cyanide levels that contaminated coastal waters, leading to to fish kills. Heavy metal substances were detected in soil, water, and sediment samples, as well as in the urine and blood of some residents.

In 2012, mine tailings from Philex Mining Corp in Itogon, Benguet contaminated Balog and Agno rivers.

In 2012 and 2014, Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. in Palawan contaminated the Pinagduguan, Pasi, and Pulot Rivers.

The Benguet and Palawan incidents led decreased harvest and fish kills in the said areas.

Large-scale mining, Ibon added, has not contributed to the economy.

"For instance, some 98% of Philippine mineral production is exported for use by other countries' steel industries while the country has none despite its being one of the world's top producers of gold, copper, and nickel," IBON said.

"The Mining Act has allowed foreign control of mining operations and granted incentives and rights to foreign investors... this has violated constitutional provisions restricting foreign participation in key sectors, and allowed big local and foreign business to cover up the plunder of the country's resources."