GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 30 Jan) – The provincial government of South Cotabato is set to file charges against seven personalities who were allegedly behind the continuing illegal “banlas” or hydraulic sluice mining activities in the mountains of Tampakan town.
Siegfred Flaviano, South Cotabato Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Thursday they are now finalizing the affidavits of a number of witnesses and several other evidence against the alleged illegal mining patrons.
He did not identify the seven personalities but noted that they include financiers, operators and suppliers of mercury, which is widely used in the highly-destructive illegal mining operation.
Most of them were based in parts of South Cotabato but others come from areas outside the province, including this city and Davao area.
“We’re targeting to file the charges (at the provincial prosecutor’s office) by early February,” he said in a press conference.
“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 a mining village in T’boli town several years ago, has been thriving these past years in small-scale mining areas in Tampakan.
Flaviano said they identified the alleged “banlas” mining patrons based on a report submitted earlier by the Tampakan municipal police station and the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office.
He said the report was later validated by a joint intelligence team commissioned by the provincial government.
The official said they gathered the witnesses’ affidavits through a team of PEMO personnel who had underwent paralegal training.
He said their office, through an endorsement from South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, established last year a legal desk to properly handle environmental cases filed by the local government.
“We actually shifted our strategy from enforcement to filing of cases to effectively deal with the problem,” he said.
The official noted that the illegal activity persisted in the past despite the series of raids that they conducted in the “banlas” mining areas.
“Usually, the illegal miners were no longer at the site by the time we reach the area and only a few of their equipment are left,” he said.
He said the illegal miners eventually coped with the raids by installing portable sluice boxes and early warning systems.
But Flaviano said that by filing the charges against its patrons, they expect the illegal mining activities in Tampakan to ease off and eventually die down.
As of Thursday, he said the “banlas” mining activities are centered in portions of Sitio Campo Kilot in Barangay Pulabato and nearby areas.
At the height of its operations two years ago, illegal mining was monitored in parts of Barangays Danlag, Pulabato and Tablu but Flaviano said it has so far slowed down and now only concentrated in Pulabato.
He said the “banlas” miners were forced to abandon some of the illegal mining areas due to the intensified foot patrols launched last year by a team from the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion that were deployed in the area.