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The Aftermath of the Carmen Copper Mine Landslide

by Marcelle P. Villegas - March 17, 2021

After the tragic landslide that occurred at the open pit’s north wall at around 4:15 p.m. on Monday, 21 Dec. 2020,  Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) 7 ordered the immediate suspension of the mine operations in Carmen Copper Corporation (CCC). According to MGB’s report last 22 Dec. 2020 on their official website, they stated “Initial investigations revealed there was no mining activity in the area on that day.” [1]

On that day, landslide debris fell on the water at the pit bottom. This has an elevation of 41m above sea level. The landslide created a tsunami-like wave that reached an elevation of 105m in the southern portion of the pit where the workers were located. On 22 Dec. 2020, four fatalities were recorded along with six missing. [1]

Further on, an assessment of the area was conducted by Director Pacquito Melicor Jr. (DENR Central Visayas Regional Executive Director), Director Armando Malicse (MGB 7 Regional Director), MGB Region 7 team, and Mine Safety, Environment and Social Development Division.

CCC and Toledo City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management team continued their search and retrieval operations on a limited scale due to unstable condition. MGB 7 technical personnel continues its on-site inspection and investigation in accordance with R.A. 7942 (Philippine Mining Act of 1995) and the DENR Administrative Order Nos. 2010-21 (Consolidated IRR of RA 7942) and 2000-98 (Mine Safety and Health Standards). [1]

A list of names of workers who died was given by CCC to the Toledo Police Station Chief, Lt. Col. Junnel Caadlawon. The second list contains the names of those who are still missing. [2]

Those who died from the landslide are the following:

  • Junil S. Lagola, age 44, from Barangay Don Andres Soriano, leadman
  • Ernesto G. Caspe, age 54, from Dasmamac, Lutopan, checker
  • Juan M. Tapang, age 44, from Don Andres Soriano Village, heavy equipment operator
  • Dionisio Labang, from barangay Uling, Naga, backhoe operator/Anseca Contractor

Those who are still missing are the following:

  • Jose B. Carpentero, age 31, from Barangay Biga, heavy equipment operator from Mine Services Department
  • Jonwel S. Herediano, age 33, from Barangay Don Andres Soriano, pump operator
  • Simeon B. Laconas, age 33, from Barangay Biga, leadman - mine services department
  • John Paul L. Resuelo, age 27, from Barangay Biga, heavy equipment operator
  • Renante F. Sepada, age 35, from Barangay Bagakay, pump operator
  • Alfred C. Tautho, age 33, from Barangay Mainggit, welder

Carmen Copper Corp. (CCC) expressed their support and commitment to provide free education until college and allowances to all the children of its employees who died or are still missing after the tragedy last December. Based on a press statement of the company last 27 Dec. 2020, they have provided various forms of financial and other assistance to the immediate families of its deceased workers. [3]

Additionally, CCC also offered employment opportunities for the victims’ next of kin, spouse and children.

“CCC has given the same attention to the immediate family of the missing CCC employees and will afford them of the same commitments CCC provided to the family of the deceased,” according to the company’s statement.

CCC also extended support to the family of the contractor who was among the victims. [3]

On 8 Feb. 2021, Toledo City Mayor, Hon. Marjorie Piczon-Perales along with Vice-Mayor Jay B. Go met the families of the victims at the open shed of the City Hall Garden to provide them with “ayuda” or financial assistance. This was posted on the Toledo City Public Information Office social media page. The mayor granted the families of deceased workers the amount of Php15 million. For the victims who are injured, they were given Php5 million. Additionally, they were all given food packs. [4]

On 29 Jan. 2021, the Office of Senator Christopher “Bong” Go distributed assistance to the Toledo City residents who were affected by the landslide in CCC mine. This was held at the Carmen Copper Recreation Center, Toledo City, Cebu. During the distribution, 248 families received meals, financial assistance, food packs, vitamins, face masks and face shields. Senator Go also gave bicycles and shoes to selected recipients, and computer tablets for their children to be used for online classes. Health and safety protocols were strictly implemented to avoid the further spread of COVID-19. The Senator was not present during the distribution but he sent them a video message with words of encouragement. [5]

Senator Go also offered assistance to those who needed major medical operations such as heart surgeries. He urged those in need of such medical attention to seek assistance from any of the Malasakit Centers in the province. [5]

While the local and national government along with CCC are busy sending assistance to the families of the victims of the December landslide, mining industry in general received backlashes from various groups who believe that the deaths and injuries could have been prevented.

Barely a month before the landslide, there had been reports from residents of Barangay Biga in Toledo City who claim they warned officials of the MGB Central Visayas and CCC as well about large cracks in the village prior to the landslide. However, they said that their appeal was not properly addressed. [6]

Biga Barangay Captian Pedro Sepada Jr. told a local newspaper in Cebu last 29 Dec. 2020 that prior to the landslide, barangay officials called for an emergency consultative meeting on 26 Nov. 2020 with representatives of CCC, MGB 7 and Biga residents to talk about the possible measures to be done after the cracks were discovered. Sepada said that MGB 7 Director Armando Malicse and CCC Vice President for Safety, Ignas Alburo were present. No representative from the Toledo City government was present. Sepada noted that during the meeting, they were not given a concrete response or alternative solution by CCC or MGB to provide assurance to the residents that they will all be safe while mining operations are ongoing. But Sepada said that they were simply told by MGB 7 and CCC officials that their place remained safe. [6]

According to the local news reports in Toledo City, residents now believe the huge cracks caused the fatal landslide. “It was only after the landslide last Dec. 21, that they declared our area to be unsafe within a radius of 600-meter distance from the pipeline of Carmen Copper. They now say it’s unsafe. What happened to their guarantee of safety before?” [6]

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia said last December that they shall leave the investigation to MGB before implementing any course of action. She mentioned that she will leave it up to the MGB 7 to decide whether or not CCC has any liability. 

Garcia said, “The investigation is not our expertise nor is that our mandate. MGB has already issued a suspension of operations and MGB is going to undertake the investigation. So let’s put things in proper perspective. While the investigation is ongoing, perhaps it is best to wait for the results.” [6]


“I am not taking any sides. I want to be as objective as possible. However, there are some personalities who are not as objective because they have their own interest in Carmen Copper. They want to control so that they can do business with Carmen Copper. This is a warning to those who want to make it difficult.”

Garcia also noted that CCC mining operations have given so much to Toledo City in terms of employment and the city’s development. She said that a thorough investigation is needed in order to prevent those with “personal interest” in the mining operations of CCC from ruining the lives of so many people working there. [6] Garcia assured the Province will provide assistance and support to the families of miners who died and those who remain missing after the landslide. [6] 

Renester P. Suraltra, a college professor wrote a commentary last December on SunStar Cebu with the title “Toledo tragedy: The untold story”. He wrote, “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.” [7]


Acknowledgement:

Ryan Peter Vivo Penaranda for Cebuano to English translation from some news articles

References:

[1] Mines and Geosciences Bureau Press Release (22 Dec. 2020)."Carmen Copper Mine In-Pit Landslide Incident".

[2] ANV (23 Dec. 2020). SunStar Cebu. "Listahan sa namatay, missing sa Carmen pit gipagawas".

[3] WBS and PR (27 Dec. 2020). SunStar Cebu. "Carmen Copper Corp. commits to help landslide victims' families". 

[4] Toledo City Public Information Office Facebook Page (8 Feb. 2021). "Families of the victims of the land in Biga Pit Gitagaan ug ayuda in Toledo".

[5] Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Facebook Page (31 Jan. 2021). "Hundreds of Toledo City, Cebu residents affected by a copper mine landslide receive assistance from Senator Bong Go".

[6] Sabalo, Wenilyn (30 Dec. 2020). SunStar Cebu. "Biga chief claims please ignored before landslide". Retrieved from - https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1881418/Cebu/Local-News/Biga-chief-claims-pleas-ignored-before-landslide

[7] Suralta, Renester P. (27 Dec. 2020). SunStar Cebu. "Tell it to SunStar: Toledo tragedy: The untold story". Retrieved from - https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1881194



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As an effect, the devastation was great marked by massive flooding in Isabela and Cagayan provinces. [2] The residents in those areas blame the National Irrigation Association (NIA) for the flood when they opened the floodgates of the nearby Magat Dam on the last minute. The two provinces were submerged in high waters as high as a two-storey building. NIA on the other hand firmly contradicted such claim and explained that the release of water from Magat Dam was not the main cause of flooding. NIA points out that proper and sufficient warnings were given to those communities in low-lying areas. Additionally, they stated that the volume of water released was only 25% of the carrying capacity of the Cagayan River. The river is the longest stream in the Philippines that serves as the catch basin of the nine provinces in three regions. [2] Aside from the two typhoons, a second issue related with the river was about the illegal magnetite mining at the mouth of the Cagayan River in the municipality of Aparri. The provincial board of Cagayan appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019 to stop the dredging operations of Pacific Offshore Exploration, Inc. (POEI) due to potential threat to the environment and the livelihood of the locals. The Chinese company Zhong Hai Gravel Group headed by Dong Biao Su is POEI’s partner in that operation. The company was controversial recently after the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Coast Guard raided its Zhonhai 68 dredging vessel during a maritime security patrol off the Bataan coast. “Bureau of Customs are poised to issue a warrant of seizure and detention against the undocumented vessel.” However, the Chinese Embassy in Manila claimed that the vessel is technically non-Chinese because it is registered under an African flag of convenience. [2] Currently, JDVC Resources Corp. is the first and only company that was granted a declaration of mining project feasibility by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to extract magnetite sand and other minerals in Cagayan. In response to Cagayan’s decade-old black sand mining problem, the launching of Cagayan River Rehabilitation Project last February 2 is seen to solve the problem. DENR stated early in February that mining regulations will strictly monitor the extraction of magnetite or black sand in the coastal waters and rivers of Cagayan province. [3] With regards to APL’s/JDVC Resources Corp.’s offshore magnetite iron mining, MGB Director Wilfredo Monaco stated the project has gone through an environmental impact assessment system processes and the company has secured an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). [3]  “JDVC has undergone environmental impact assessment and the company was issued an ECC, which means environmental issues have been considered by the EMB,” Moncano stated. Magnetite or black sand mining is supposed to be banned in the Philippines, but Moncano explained that the extraction of the said mineral offshore is allowed. He said, “Mining in shoreline is prohibited but offshore mining is allowed.  If it is at least 1,500 meters from the shoreline going out to the sea, it is allowed.” He also assured that the company’s operation will be monitored by the MGB and EMB, that in case of any destruction or damage to the coastal or marine ecosystem by JDVC Resources Corp., there will be a corresponding penalty under the mining law. “What is important is that the JDVC will not cause damage to the coastal or marine ecosystem,” he said. As for mining in rivers like in the Cagayan River, it is also allowed as long as the primary purpose of the project is river rehabilitation or restoration. One example is their plan to extract some 7 million metric tons of sand to remove three of the 19 sandbars along is stretch. Moncano said that the DENR-MGB will also monitor the dredging operations because while the activity is primarily flood mitigation, the minerals to be extracted include magnetite sand. [3] Moncano stated, “Black sand mining is also part of the purposes that’s why we will assess the mineral content of the river channel. If the magnetite sand contained surpasses the threshold of 6 percent, we will charge the company of 4-percent excise tax.” He said that every shipment will undergo mineral assessment. (--Marcelle P. Villegas, PRJ) References: [1] Flores, Alena Mae S. (31 Jan. 2021). Manila Standard. "Apollo Global announces subsidiary’s start of magnetite mining operations in Cagayan". [2] Gamboa, J. Albert (5 Feb. 2021). Business World. "Building back better in Cagayan Valley". [3] Mayuga, Jonathan L. (4 Feb. 2021). Business Mirror. "MGB exec vows to keep tabs of Cagayan River magnetite quarry operations set to start in February".

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