AN OLD mining pit in western Cebu has turned into a popular site for social media-worthy selfies and groufies.
Trees dot the slopes of the Biga Pit, providing a refreshing contrast to the barren, rocky slopes of two other open pits within the vast mines of Carmen Copper Corp. in Toledo City, Cebu.
Visitors are greeted by, not a huge gaping hole with excavators and dump trucks at the bottom but, a stunning vista of a man-made lake with turquoise water.
At the Biga Pit Lookout, participants to an Annual Mine Tour organized Friday, June 23, by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau didn't waste time taking their smartphones and cameras out to snap pictures.
The company officials who served as tour guides were quite considerate.
"Dili lang kaayo ni nako tas-on kay mag-selfie pa ra ba mo (I will make this brief because I know that you want to take a selfie)," Carmen Copper's environment head Christopher John Salcedo said in jest.
Biga Pit is one of three mining pits at the Toledo copper mines, currently the biggest in the country. The mines, sprawled across four villages, are situated about 50 kilometers west of Cebu City.
The other two mining pits are Carmen and Lutopan. Only Carmen Pit is active, producing an average of 42,000 dry metric tons (DMT) of copper ore daily. Operations at Lutopan Pit, which still holds ore reserves of about 180 million metric tons, have been suspended and are expected to resume in 2021.
Biga Pit has been decommissioned and currently serves as the mine tailings storage facility, with an estimated operating life of 11 years. Underneath that turquoise water are tons of tailings, or the materials left after the valuable elements are extracted from the ores.
On its website, Carmen Copper said water at the Biga lake has a pH level of 7.5 to 8, which is within the normal range for surface water and safe enough for fish like tilapia to thrive in. In general, surface water with a pH level of more than 7 is considered basic while a pH level of less than 7 is considered acidic.
The transformation of Biga Pit into a charming scenery from a barren pit showcases Carmen Copper's capability to undertake responsible mining, said company president and chief executive officer Enrico Nera.
Carmen Copper, a subsidiary of Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp., was among 13 metallic mining companies that passed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) audit last year, Nera proudly said.
"Of course, we are happy with the results. But we are not laying our cards down. We have pledged to do better. Our pledge after the audit is that we become the poster boy for the mining industry," he said.
Carmen Copper has exclusive operating rights over the Toledo mines covering 1,676 hectares. The mines, which are the only metallic mines in Central Visayas, are part of Atlas' mineral property of roughly 5,000 hectares.
"Any mining or construction activity, there's a degree of environmental damage. But fortunately, there are three things going for Carmen Copper," Nera said, citing the company's use of new mining technologies, minimal losses and professionally run organization.
To become a model for responsible mining, Nera said they have been implementing a reforestation program in all mined-out areas, strictly monitoring mine effluents and metal content of the rivers, and intensified awareness of employees on environmental safety.
Of the 1,676-hectare total mined area, about 800 hectares are being used for active mining operations. About a fourth, or 200 hectares, are considered mined-out and are being reforested.
Among the reforestation areas are the Biga Pit and a portion of the idle Lutopan Pit, where tour participants took part in a tree planting activity.
Salcedo, in a presentation after the mine tour, said the company has planted 2.18 million tree seedlings in 1,334 hectares and donated over 461,000 seedlings since 2010. The company has been the recipient of the Best Mining Forest Award in the metallic category for the past six years.
The company has also been honored with the Gawad Tugas Award by the DENR for its "outstanding environmental programs."
Salcedo said the company has intensified the implementation of programs required under the Mining Act.
For its Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program, Salcedo said the company has spent P2.23 billion since 2009. This program involves, among others, the rehabilitation, regeneration, revegetation and reforestation of mineralized areas.
Under its Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan until 2021, the company is expected to set aside around P73 million. As of end-2016, Salcedo said the company has deposited P48 million.
Mining companies are required by law to set aside 1.5% of its annual operating costs for community development.
The bulk of this amount, or 75%, goes to a Social Development and Management Program (SDMP) while 10% goes to the development of mining technology and 15% for a public awareness and education campaign.
Carmen Copper's social development program benefits its four host barangays, namely, Lutopan, Don Andres Soriano, Loay and Biga.
Under this program, Salcedo said the company has spent P497 million since 2009, when the five-year SDMP of the company was approved. For this year, the budget is P196 million.
Nera said the implementation of these programs show Carmen Copper's commitment to responsible mining.
"Our commitment and dedication to continuous improvement bode well for our industry which is determined to prove that sustainable development and responsible mining are compatible with preservation of the environment and social harmony," he said.
"They are being gradually realized by us in the communities that co-exist and host our operations," he added. (SunStar Philippines)
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