COVID-19 hinders probe on Semirara miner’s death

Published July 23, 2020, 8:27 AM

by Tara Yap

ILOILO CITY—The threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is hindering the probe on the death of a miner at Semirara Island, the country’s largest coal mine in Caluya town, Antique province.

Heavy equipment is seen working at one of the coal pits of Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC), the country’s largest coal producer in Caluya town, Antique province. (Tara Yap/Fie/Manila Bulletin)

Antique Gov. Rhodora Cadiao said a technical working group (TWG) team was supposed to go to Semirara to physically inspect the incident site but the team members expressed concern over contracting the disease.

“They are afraid of possible COVID-19 infection,” Cadiao told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.

This came after as Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC) confirmed the July 20 death of its excavator who was hit by a  limestone boulder that fell  at the Narra coal pit.

Aside from the fear of getting infected with COVID-19, Cadiao said it will be hard for the TWG to travel due to additional restrictions.

“For now, we can only wait for the initial report coming from SMPC,” Cadiao said.

This was also echoed by the Western Visayas regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB-6), an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

EMB-6 Regional Director Ramar Niel Pascua said it is waiting for SMPC to submit its incident report to determine if there is environmental violation.

“If there is, then we have to send our team. But if it’s an operational incident, then we do not need to go there,” Pascua told the Manila Bulletin in a separate interview.

But the access of both the Antique provincial government and EMB-6 in Semirara are limited as it is the Department of Energy (DOE) that has jurisdiction over the island which was declared a coalmine reservation.

“We are determining the exact circumstances surrounding the incident. Rest assured that we are coordinating with the DOE and other relevant government agencies on this matter,” SMPC said in a separate statement.

Meanwhile, both the Antique provincial government and SMPC will be extending financial assistance to the family of the coal miner who died.