ILOILO CITY, Philippines — The Department of Energy (DOE) has granted permission to the Semirara Mining Corp. (SMC) to resume extraction operations after it cleared the firm of negligence in the collapse of a mining pit that buried 10 workers.
Five workers died when at least 600,000 cubic meters of soil (around the load of 13,000 dump trucks) were dumped on the workers who were operating heavy equipment at the bottom of the pit.
Workers Jan Riel Planca, Leovigildo Porras, Randy Tamparong, Richard Padernilla and Junjie Gomez remained missing despite continuous search.
Energy Undersecretary Ramon Allan Oca said the SMC was allowed to resume extraction operations starting in April at the northern area of the 360-hectare Panian Pit on Semirara Island in Antique.
Oca said their investigation showed that there was no indication that portions of the western wall would collapse.
“We found no evidence of negligence on the part of the company,” he said.
But he said the resumption of extraction in the western area of the pit would only be allowed if the rehabilitation measures were completed and if the safety of the pit was ensured.
“The (SMC) was required to put up additional safety measures as a pre-condition to the resumption of extraction operations,” Oca told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The safety measures include additional de-watering wells, monitoring stations and cutoff walls to prevent the collapse of the walls of the mining pit.
The DOE will also conduct more frequent inspections and monitoring from every month or every two months instead of the quarterly regular inspections.
The northern area is 300 to 400 meters away from the western wall of the pit where 10 workers were buried after parts of the wall collapsed on February 13.
Oca said two pieces of heavy equipment have been found under tons of soil but no bodies have been recovered.
He said the search for the missing victims would continue even as the SMC was directed to conduct rehabilitation measures in the collapsed section of the pit.
Several workers of the mining company earlier told the Inquirer that company officials had ignored warnings of an imminent landslide at the western wall of the pit.
But company officials have denied the allegations stressing that the landslide was unexpected and even personnel who were monitoring the safety of the area were among the victims.
The Department of Labor Employment (DOLE) in Western Visayas earlier reported that the SMC and its contractors had violated labor standards including its failure to pay the minimum wage and other benefits for their workers.
The violations included underpayment of minimum wage; non-payment of 13th month pay, holiday and overtime pays, and service incentive leaves; and non-coverage of workers with the Social Security System (SSS), Philhealth, and Pag-IBIG.
The SMC has already taken full responsibility for the payment of wages due to the workers, according to the DOLE.
The SMC supplies 7 million metric tons of coal annually or 94 percent of locally produced coal. The company exports 2.2 million mt while 4.8 million mt is for the 600-megawatt Calaca power plant in Batangas and other companies like cement factories.
The company, which employs around 2,800 people, posted a P6-billion profit in 2011.