GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 16 June) – The illegal “banlas” or sluice mining activities in the mountains of Tampakan town in South Cotabato have reportedly slowed down in the past several weeks with the establishment of a permanent Army detachment near the affected areas.
South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Monday the presence of troops from the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) in the sluice mining sites in Barangays Danlag, Tablu and Pulabato in Tampakan has limited the movements of the illegal miners and eventually forced them to abandon the area.
She said the Army detachment was earlier put up by the 27IB in response to a request from the provincial government.
“The banlas activities are now under control and the enforcement activities have been continuing to totally clear the area of these illegal miners,” she said.
The governor said the operations are presently focused on illegal miners who have resorted to “guerrilla-type” activities due to the intensified crackdown and the presence of the troops.
She said the enforcement operations are assisted by the barangay security units, Tampakan municipal police station and personnel from the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO).
Last month, Fuentes said the joint enforcement team recovered stocks of mercury that were supplied to the “banlas” miners by local financiers.
“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.
At the height of its operations two years ago, authorities monitored widespread damages on the mountains covered by the illegal mining activities in the three barangays.
The most significant damages were found in the mountains in Sitio Campo Kilot of Barangay Pulabato, which is considered as the center of “banlas” mining in the area.
With the illegal mining activity now under control, Fuentes said the local government is set to implement alternative livelihood initiatives for local residents who were previously involved in “banlas” mining.
She said such move is mainly aimed to discourage them from going back to the “banlas” mining and related illegal activities.
The governor said they have created a special committee that will spearhead the implementation of the livelihood projects through a convergence of services from the provincial government.
“We will also provide them some relief assistance for the next three months or until our livelihood projects are in place,” she added.