GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 May) – The provincial government of South Cotabato has permanently closed down at least five small-scale mine tunnels located at a gold rush area in T’boli town due to safety concerns.
South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said Monday they issued a permanent closure order on the gold mining tunnels at the Dimaporo area of Barangay Kematu in T’boli due to their vulnerability to landslides and other mining-related geohazards.
He said the move was based on a recommendation submitted last month by a technical team commissioned by the local government to assess the ongoing small-scale mining operations and determine the actual status of the mining sites in Barangay Kematu.
“The area is no longer safe for any mining activity so we have no other option but to permanently close down the tunnels to prevent future accidents,” the governor said.
The technical assessment, which was conducted by personnel from the Provincial Environment Management Office and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 12, was an offshoot of a landslide in the area last March 30 that triggered the collapse of at least three mine tunnels.
Three miners were killed in the incident, which forced the provincial government of South Cotabato to temporarily suspend the small-scale mining activities within the affected areas.
Geology experts of the MGB-Region 12 had identified Kematu as a high-risk area based on its geohazard mapping.
Jaime Flores, MGB-Region 12’s chief geologist, said their earlier assessment showed that the mining sites in Barangay Kematu were deemed as high risk due to the soft and loose soil quality and the steepness of the area.
He said such condition was compounded by the continuing banlas or sluice mining activities that have already devastated several mountains in the area.
Sluice mining, which had been declared as illegal, is a method that employs the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ores.
Pingoy said they did not opt to fully close down the entire gold rush area due to concerns on the livelihood of local residents, especially those working in the more than 130 mine tunnels there.
“We can’t just close down the entire mining area at once. We have to balance also all the issues and concerns regarding the safety of the mining area, their impact to the environment and the livelihood of the affected residents,” he said.
But Pingoy said that they would strictly monitor the mining operations in the area, especially the compliance of mining operators with safety regulations, in coordination with local officials as well as police and military elements assigned in the area.
Kematu is the site of the declared Minahang Bayan or people’s mining site where small-scale mining operations have been active for over a decade now.
The mining area is within the disputed 21 hectares of the gold-rich village that are covered by the mining concession of the Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corporation (TMC).
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources had issued a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement or MPSA to TMC covering some 84 hectares of the area. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)