DENR team sent to evaluate T?boli gold rush sites

Lourdes Jumilla, chief secretariat of the South Cotabato Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB), said experts from the MGB central office are currently in Sitio Tunnel in Barangay Kematu, T'boli to look in to the condition of the area's mountains, especially those hosting the gold mine tunnels.

"The (results) of the evaluation will help us determine whether to lift the closure order or maintain a status quo," she said in a radio interview.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, PMRB chair, issued a stoppage order early last month to all mining activities in Barangay Kematu following the occurrence of several landslides in the area due to the heavy rains.

The stoppage order was issued following a joint investigation conducted by the PMRB, Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC), social welfare office and MGB Region 12.

A report issued by the joint investigating team cited that the continuous rains triggered ground movements or landslides, particularly in the area covered by Tribal Mining Corporation's (TMC) mineral production sharing agreement or MPSA. 

The report said "the ground was already saturated with rainwater and thus increased the fluidity of the soil."

Due to the imminent danger as indicated by the active ground movement in the area, the joint investigating team recommended the immediate stoppage of all mining activities in Barangay Kematu and the relocation of all makeshift bunkhouses located at the slopes of the area to safer grounds.

Jumilla said their latest monitoring in the area showed that the closed gold rush sites are still much vulnerable to landslides due to the continuing rains in the area.

"We don't want to make immediate decisions because we are dealing with the safety of the mine workers and the nearby communities. So until the area is considered totally safe and cleared, the closure order will remain," she said.

Jumilla said the provincial government has maintained its monitoring team in the area along with elements from the T'boli police station and the Army's 27th Infantry Battalion.

Meantime, Jumilla said the MGB team will also look into the long-drawn conflict between a mining company and a group of small-scale gold miners over the area's gold-rich mountains.

The MGB earlier conducted a survey of the 85-hectare proposed mining area of the Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corp. (TMC) in Barangay Kematu, a portion of which is being claimed by a group of local small-scale miners led by the Minahang Bayan Inc.

Both parties have filed charges against each other over their claims. The cases are still pending in the court.