GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/18 December)– Intelligence operatives in South Cotabato province have identified at least 10 personalities as allegedly behind the rampant illegal “banlas” or sluice mining activities in the mineral-rich mountains of Tampakan town.
Siegfred Flaviano, acting Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Tuesday a list of the supposed “banlas” mining operators, financiers and protectors in the area was submitted recently to the local government by the Provincial Anti-Banlas Intelligence and Investigation Task Force.
He initially refused to name any of the alleged personalities who were tagged in the illegal mining operations saying the list is still subject to further verification and deliberations by the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB).
South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr., who heads the PMRB, has yet to convene the board but noted that he already received a copy of the list, he said.
“The deliberations will determine what further actions we’re going to take against these personalities,” he said in a radio interview.
Flaviano said the task force, which includes operatives from the South Cotabato police’s intelligence unit and public safety company, Armed Forces of the Philippines-Provincial Intelligence Service Unit and the National Bureau of Investigation, was still gathering evidences against those named in the list.
He said it was also investigating several other local personalities for possible involvement in the highly-destructive mining activity.
Banlas mining, which is considered a highly-destructive mining method, involves the pouring of large amounts of water using high-pressure water jets on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore, and then pan them with mercury.
The use of the illegal mining method, which was first uncovered in T’boli, has increased in the last several years in several small-scale mining areas in Tampakan town.
“It (banlas mining) slowed these past several months in the T’boli area but it persisted in Tampakan,” Flaviano said.
The official said his office has recommended the establishment additional checkpoints and the deployment of more policemen near the identified “banlas” mining sites in Tampakan town to help curb the illegal activity.
He said the PMRB earlier endorsed such proposal to help further enhance the ongoing crackdown against the illegal mining activity.
Earlier reports said the sluice mining operations in Tampakan are centered in Kampo Kilot of Barangay Pulabato, where several hectares of a mountain in the area were already destroyed based on an aerial survey earlier conducted by the provincial government of South Cotabato.
In July, Pingoy issued Executive Order No. 10 creating the task force in a bid to effectively put an end to the destructive mining activity.
The task force, which is chaired by the governor, is mandated to conduct in-depth investigation, monitoring, raids, apprehensions and other necessary actions against all those behind the “banlas” mining operations.
The governor said they earlier received reports that the illegal mining activities continued to thrive in the province due to alleged backing from policemen and some local politicians.
“We don’t have confirmations on these yet but we’re hoping to eventually unmask all those involved through the task force,” he said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)