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Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has sent geology experts from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to Itogon, Benguet to investigate the massive landslide that buried to death dozens of small-scale miners during the height of super typhoon Ompong.

Cimatu said the MGB expert team will have to identify the cause of the landslide, which buried the bunkhouses used by small-scale miners and their families.

“I have sent a team to determine what caused the landslide. Only then we can determine the culpability of those who can be held responsible [for the tragedy],” Cimatu told a press conference held at the DENR central office in Quezon City on Wednesday.

In the same press conference, MGB-Cordillera Autonomous Region Director Fay Apil said the site of the landslide is within geohazard zone.

“The site is characterized as a geohazard area because of its thick soil cover, highly fractured rocks and steep slopes which were aggravated by the saturation of the soil from rains brought by the typhoon,” Apil said.

According to Apil, the average volume of rainfall in the area for the month of September was recorded at 570 millimeters, but it reached 970mm during Ompong as monitored within 12 hours.

The bunkhouses in which the miners had sought shelter was also located downslope, the MGB official added.

Apil also clarified that the landslide site was outside the mining area, prompting DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda to conclude that the landslide could have not been caused by mining.

“With or without mining, that landslide would occur. [The deaths] occurred because they were there for mining,” Antiporda said during the press conference.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said he has already directed the MGB to identify safer areas where other small-scale miners can be relocated until such time a “Minahang Bayan” is declared in the area.

The environment chief pointed out that the DENR is not at all against small-scale mining, saying the agency only wanted it “regulated and done properly.”

At the same time, he said the MGB is ready to provide technical assistance to the provincial government of Benguet in setting up a Minahang Bayan. MGB has a representative to the provincial mining regulatory board, he noted.

Cimatu also disclosed that the DENR is now coming up with a plan for miners affected by his recent order stopping all small-scale mining activities in Itogon.

This, he said, would include a cash-for-work program where miners can be hired as forest protection workers under the government’s National Greening Program. ###