CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/ 26 October) – Two Chinese nationals without working permits were arrested during a raid by a multi-agency task force on a dozen barges illegally mining for gold in the Iponan River here.
Lt. Col. George Banzon, commanding officer of the Army 58th Infantry Battalion, said they found an unlicensed 9mm pistol with two magazines of ammunitions hidden in a steel closet upon inspecting one of the barges in Sitio Dumalokdok, Barangay Tumpagon on Thursday afternoon.
The raiding team failed to arrest anyone from that barge as the foreign workers scampered before they arrived. But two Chinese nationals were arrested while working on a barge in Sitio Araw-Araw, Barangay Pagalungan, which is also traversed by the Iponan River.
Banzon said they were surprised by the discovery of an unlicensed firearm as “it is public knowledge that the barge owners do not allow local residents to go near the machines and instead rely on foreign workers to do the work.”
The task force that raided the illegal mining operations also includes the police and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“This is a clear evidence that the foreigners who are engaged in illegal mining in Iponan River are well-armed and probably threatening the local residents,” said Orlan Ravanera of the Sulog-One Sendong is Enough (Sulog), an environmental people’s organization.
The two arrested Chinese nationals were identified as Zhong Hengyuan, 43, and He Jiancheng, 42, both residents of the People’s Republic of China.
When arrested, both failed to present working permits, only their passports that were confiscated by authorities.
Zhong’s passport had a tourist visa issued by the Philippine consulate in Guangzhou, China, while Jiancheng’s passport also had a tourist visa issued by the Philippine consulate in Xiamen, also in China.
The two Chinese nationals cannot speak or understand Filipino or English.
However, local journalist and Gold Star Daily columnist Ben Contreras was able to talk with Zhong in Mandarin, China’s official language.
Translating for Zhong, Contreras told local reporters that the Chinese nationals arrived in Cagayan de Oro two months ago after they were recruited in China.
“Zhong did not even know he was violating Philippine laws,” Contreras said.
He said Zhong told him there were four Chinese nationals working in the barge and that they were working for a Filipino-Chinese who resides in the city.
Contreras also said Zhong told him that they could produce 15 to 20 grams of gold a day from the Iponan River.
Engr. Daniel Belderol, of the DENR Mines Management Division, said they found that 15 barges (not six as earlier reported) were illegally mining for gold in the Iponan River.
He said they have put stickers on the barges, ordering the miners to stop their operations based on environmental laws and an August 3 executive order issued by Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Vicente Emano.
“All of these barges are now operating illegally based on these laws and the executive order,” Belderol said.
He said many of these barge owners were issued with business permits by the Cagayan de Oro City government and Environmental Compliance Certificates from the DENR for sand and gravel operations only.
Belderol said that upon inspection, they found the barges disguising as dredgers although they are actually excavators scooping the river bottom for gold.
“The barges have chains of extractors that scoop the soil on the river bottom. These have a mesh of filtering nets to separate the gold from the soil,” he said.
Sulog said the non-stop excavation at the Iponan riverbed have turned its river delta into a “wasteland.”
During the inspection last Thursday, several barges have set up permanent positions, digging open pits so wide that four trucks could fit inside the hole.
In one open pit in Sitio Benoni, Barangay Tuburan, task force members found that the operators have diverted the Iponan River and dug an open pit that could fit “20 trucks .”
“In every corner of Iponan River, operators set up open pits and diverted the flow of the river. This is a clear violation of the ECC,” Edwin Dael of Sulog said.
Residents in the villages where the barges operate told journalists that none of them are allowed to work in the barges and foreign workers always prevented them from going near the machines.
Roldan Maglungsod, president of Baikingon Farmers Association, said there were incidents where foreigners fired warning shots to frighten and deter residents along the Iponan River from going near the barges.
Sulog has called on Congress to conduct an investigation on the illegal mining operations in the Iponan River. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)