Church official seeks justice for Itogon deaths

Church official seeks justice for Itogon deaths

Search and rescue operations at landslide-hit area in Barangay Ucab, Itogon, Benguet, Sept. 16, 2018. CIRIACO SANTIAGO III, CSsR

By Roy Lagarde

September 18, 2018

Manila, Philippines

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.

According to him, the mining site was among the areas ordered closed by former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 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.,” Gariguez said.

The priest mourned the miners who were buried in the landslide due to heavy rains unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut.

Rescuers have recovered 12 bodies of about 70 miners and their families believed buried in the muddy avalanche.

Following the tragedy, environment chief Roy Cimatu on Monday 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.