DENR suspends operations vs small-scale mining in Itogon

BAGUIO, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered the suspension of operations against small-scale mining in Itogon, Benguet.

Cimatu issued the order nearly a month after he stopped small-scale mining in the town following the landslide that killed over 80 people there. (READ: Itogon: When the land of promise buried its people)

“I have stopped the operations of Task Force Itogon," Cimatu said in a text message to Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag. 

 Task Force Itogon is the multisectoral team formed to implement Operation Itogon, the operation against small-scale mining in the town.

Cimatu said he would go meet with the small-scale miners after the dry run opening of Boracay on October 15.

“Yes, I’ll talk to them and hope to open the minahang bayan to legitimize their small-scale mining,” the environment chief said.

Cimatu had earlier ordered the review of all minahang bayan or people's small-scale mining areas in the country following the Itogon landslide.

Cimatu suspended Operation Itogon after the task force closed 539 mining tunnels in only two days. This is more than half of the small-scale mining adits in the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) inventory. 

Ralph Pablo, DENR-Cordillera director, said at least 335 ball mills – a type of grinding machine used in processing minerals – had been mothballed. 

Pablo said that the DENR regional office only cordoned off the tunnels and did not seal the entrance through the use of explosives because of the risk of triggering landslides – the reason why the mines were closed in the first place.  

Landslides in Itogon, particularly in Ucab and Loacan villages, killed 89 residents while 8 remain missing. The landslides were due to heavy rains brought by Typhoon Ompong (Mankhut) on September 15.

This prompted the DENR to suspend small-scale mining in the area where 60% of the residents depend on mining. (READ: Why mine despite landslide scare? 'Doon lang kami umaasa')

Over 20,000 small-scale miners are said to have been affected by the temporary mining shutdown. 

Last week, the task force nabbed 6 people for operating their ball mill in Tuding village. Another 3 were arrested in Ucab for the same offense. –

Read more stories from Rappler's coverage of the Itogon landslide: