GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/5 Aug) – Police and environment personnel seized more than 60 tons of illegally extracted copper ore in separate operations in Tampakan town and Koronadal City in South Cotabato during the last two days.
Ramon Ponce de Leon, South Cotabato Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Thursday they initially intercepted some 420 sacks of raw copper ore estimated at over 22 tons while being transported out of Tampakan town aboard a 20-footer container van late Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, he said joint elements from the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office, City Environment and Natural Resources Office and PEMO recovered another 652 sacks of copper ore initially pegged at more than 30 tons in a raid in at least two sites in Barangay Magsaysay in Koronadal City.
He said the raiding team is scheduled to retrieve this morning an additional 40 to 50 sacks of copper ore that they found ditched in a fishpond in the same village.
“Based on our initial inquiry, these ores were extracted illegally from various sites in Tampakan and Columbio towns. We’re still trying to verify those behind these activities but it appears that an organized and well-financed group is involved here,” Ponce de Leon said.
He was referring to the mineral-rich mountains of Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, which were part of the proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project of the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
SMI and its financial partner Xstrata Copper are currently completing their exploration activities in the proposed mining area, which reportedly hosts the largest copper and gold deposits in Southeast Asia.
It was the first time that a huge volume of copper ores was seized by authorities in South Cotabato, although there have been persistent reports of illegal mining activities within the concession area of Sagittarius Mines.
Sagittarius is eyeing the open-pit mining method in extracting the deposits within the mines development site, but it is facing a stumbling block in pursuing the venture after the recent passage of the provincial environment code that bans open-pit mining.
Ponce de Leon said they were able to stop the scheduled transport of the copper ores last Tuesday following a tip from local informants. He said responding PEMO personnel and elements from the South Cotabato police found at least two 20-footer vans, one of which was still empty, at the boundary of barangays Sta. Cruz in Tampakan and Magsaysay in Koronadal.
Ponce de Leon said police operatives took into their custody a certain Joey Miasis, who was identified as the driver of the container van that contained the copper ores.
Based on documents found at the scene, he said the container vans were supposedly rented from a certain Yangco of Sasa, Davao City.
The operatives also recovered at least seven copies of an ore transport permit issued by the provincial government of South Cotabato to the Lemblete Integrated Small Scale Mining Association based in Barangay Kematu in T’boli, South Cotabato.
The permit, which was dated August 2, 2010, was signed by Ponce de Leon and South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. and was accompanied by receipts signed by Provincial Treasurer Elvira Rafael that acknowledged a payment of P9,475.
Ponce de Leon admitted signing such document but cited that it was specifically intended for the transport of gold ores from Barangay Kematu to Poblacion in T’boli town.
“They can’t use it in Tampakan because there’s no legal mineral source or approved mining areas there,” he explained.
During the follow-up operations Wednesday in Barangay Magsaysay in Koronadal City, police operatives led by Supt. Barney Condes of the South Cotabato police’s intelligence and investigation section found the 652 bags of copper ore piled up at a solar dryer located at the back of a chapel and the residence of the Pillo family.
Condes said they also found some 40 to 50 sacks of copper ore that were dumped in a fish pond in the area.
The police official said they arrested the alleged caretakers of the copper ores who were identified as Angelica Jinggoy and Jed Pillo and a certain Eduardo Galoso.
During an interrogation, he said Galoso admitted as one of the caretakers of the seized copper cores and was supposedly hired by its alleged financier identified as Taiwanese couples Richard and Irene Shien of Parañaque City in Metro Manila.
“The names of the Shiens appeared in some of the documents that we recovered at the scene,” Condes said.
He said they specifically found an assay test result that was earlier issued to Richard Shien by the Davao Analytical Laboratories Inc. based in Davao City.
Another recovered assay test result issued by the Mindanao University of Science and Technology in Cagayan de Oro identified a certain Nonong as the owner of the tested ores.
Ponce de Leon said the suspects will be brought today for inquest proceedings at the Regional Trial Court in Koronadal City.
“We’ll proceed with our investigation along with the police to identify the real backers of this illegal activity,” he said.
He added that Pingoy directed their office to dig deeper into the matter and file the necessary charges against the financiers and all those involved in the illegal activity. (With reports)