Robredo orders closure of tunnels and demolition of houses in high-risk areas

PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/06 January) – Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo has ordered the closure of  tunnels in high-risk areas and the demolition of houses in “no habitation” zones in the gold rush sites.

BRIEFING. Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo listens to the briefing of Col. Roberto Domines, commander of the Army's 1001st Brigade, in Pantukan town hall on January 7. Robredo ordered a closure of tunnels in high-risk areas and the demolition of houses in "no-habitation" zones. MindaNews photo by Toto LozanoRobredo also said President Benigno Simeon Aquino has ordered an investigation to determine if local officials failed to implement the recommendations of the Mines Geo-Sciences Bureau on the high-risk areas.

The Secretary rushed to this town on Friday, a day after landslide struck Sitio Diat Uno in Barangay Napnapan, killing at least 27 persons.

In a press conference at the town hall, Robredo said ballmills and other gold processing facilities should be moved away from the minesites.

Houses in “no habitation zones” should be demolished within two weeks, he said, adding evacuation of  residents will be done with the Army and Police leading the operations.

Col. Roberto Domines Jr, commander of the Army’s 1001st Infantry brigade said they were ready to implement the order.

Sitio Diat Uno was among the areas identified as “high risk” by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)  in its landslide assessment and mapping conducted on May 16-31, 2011. One of its recommendations was to relocate residents within identified areas and immediate evacuation during extreme weather conditions.

The assessment was done shortly after the April 22, 2011 landslide that struck Sito Panganason, Barangay Kingking, about a kilometer away from the landslide site in Napnapan. At least 14 persons were klled then.

Away from minesite

Robredo added that ballmills and other gold processing facilities should be dismantled and relocated from the mining area to the lowlands “so there would no reason for anyone to build bunkhouses or shanties at the mining sites.

He said operators of ballmills and processing facilities are given three months to comply with the directive.

Compostela Valley governor Arturo Uy said mining operations in Barangay Pamintaran, Maragusan town is “model tunnel” and a “no habitation policy”  is enforced there.

“Walay tindahan, wala’y videokehan sa minahan aron wala pud casualty sa panahon sa landslide,” (There are no stores, no videoke bars in the minesite to ensure no casualties during landslides), the governor said.

The “no habitation policy” in Maragusan started in 2009.

Secretary Luwalhati Antonino,  chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said, “we will implement a Balik-Probinsya Program where we will send them back to their respective provinces and give them alternative livelihood.”

“Most of these victims are not from Pantukan, I can see somebody is from GenSan (General Santos City),” she added.

Uy admitted  Robredo’s order is difficult to implement but they would comply with the order.

Following the landslide on April 22 last year, Uy  ordered a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations in the province  but this was reconsidered when  Robredo flew to Pantukan two days later.

Forcibly evicted

Robredo told a press conference then that at least 30 families living near the landslide site in the small-scale gold mining area in Barangay Kingking had been given 48 hours starting April 25 to relocate, as initial assessment showed another landslide could happen anytime.

Those who refuse would be forcibly evicted from the danger zone, he said.

The miners residing there eventually volunteered to demolish their houses, mostly made of light materials.

Robredo aso said the 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations which Governor Uy ordered had been reconsidered given the economic impact on the miners but “the local government will implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the miners, which prohibits them from direct habitation in the gold rush site.”

As early as 2008, the municipal government of Pantukan had ordered small-scale miners in the gold rush sites to vacate areas already identified as high-risk but they refused to leave, citing economic reasons, Arnulfo Lantaya, spokesperson of the local disaster council, said.

Lantaya also said that after the April 22 landslide, Mayor Celso Sarenas issued a stoppage order on all small-scale mining operations.

But the miners refused to leave the area citing economic reasons, Lantaya said. “Ila man gyud gina sulti na mao man lang ila panginabuhian, mao na mubalik gyapon sila sa minahan” (They insist this is their only source of livelihood


In Manila, Senator Francis Pangilinan called on the Department of Interior and Local Governments to “hold accountable LGU officials who fail to heed warnings given them by authorities.”

“The time for impunity has passed, and we must now exact accountability from LGU (local government unit) officials who have failed to do their duty to protect their constituents. The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has long been calling on LGUs against illegal logging, and data have already been given them regarding disaster-prone areas. There are no more excuses for them not to do their duty to protect their constituents from disasters as landslides and flooding,” Pangilinan said in a press statement.

Pangilinan also urged the DENR to disclose populated areas that are prone to flooding and landslides to allow the people “to scrutinize officials and pressure them to strictly implement DENR guidelines.”

“We cannot allow deaths from disasters to occur repeatedly knowing that they could have been prevented from happening. We cannot tolerate any longer the ineptitude and inaction, especially with the realization that LGUs were already given the resources and data for them to take action to save lives and minimize damage to property,” he said. (Toto Lozano/MindaNews)