KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/24 October) — The provincial government of South Cotabato has served the closure order affecting at least 300 gold tunnels in the gold-rush town of T’boli, an official said Monday.
Siegfred Flaviano, acting chief of the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), said the tunnels maintained by the small-scale miners would be padlocked on Wednesday.
“We have given the operators five days to bring out all their ore stocks from the tunnels,” he told MindaNews.
Flaviano said the closure notice was sent last Friday to the T’boli Minahang Bayan Multi-Purpose Cooperative, whose members have been mining a 21-hectare gold rich area in Barangay Kematu since the early 1980s.
The padlocking of the hundreds of tunnels in the village has already been coordinated with the police and the military for the security of the implementing team, he added.
He did not say how many operators owned the gold tunnels as well as the number of affected workers.
Flaviano earlier said that Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. issued an order stopping the small-scale gold mining operations in Kematu due to the resurgence of dispute between the Maguan clan and the Minahang Bayan cooperative members involving the 21 hectares.
The Maguan clan insisted that the Minahang Bayan members should get their approval or the Free and Prior Informed Consent because the area is under their ancestral land, he added.
During the administration of then governor and now Second District Rep. Daisy P. Avance Fuentes, the provincial government also closed the small-scale mining in Kematu because of the land dispute.
Flaviano said the cooperative members have been given an 18-month extension to operate, after they appealed for consideration, prior to the serving of the closure order last Friday.
Pingoy also issued the stoppage order after the PEMO informed him that most of the small-scale miners have allegedly failed to comply with the regulatory guidelines on tunnel mining.
During a recent meeting with the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, the governor learned that 70% of the small-scale operations were illegal, the provincial information office reported earlier.
The 21 hectares is within the tenement of Tribal Mining Corp’s covering 85 hectares under Mineral Production Sharing Agreement 090-97-XI granted in 1997. The agreement has a lifespan of 25 years.
Tribal Mining has partnered with Canadian firm Cadan Resources Corp. for the commercial development of its T’boli gold-silver project.
The Court of Appeals has ruled that the conflict over rights between the mining firm and the small-scale miners involving the disputed area shall be resolved by a Regional Panel of Arbitrators, a quasi-judicial body annexed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Eumir Ernesto Tiamzon, Tribal Mining president, backed the move of the provincial government to close the small-scale mining tunnels.
He claimed that under the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1992, small-scale mining operators should ask the consent of the company that holds the tenement.
But Tiamzon, a lawyer, said the mining company is willing to talk with the small-scale miners and co-exist with them. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)