Agusan Sur Gov Plaza’s Cease and Desist Order vs illegal miners ignored

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur  (31 July) –  “A disaster waiting to happen. That mountain’s gonna fall down on us.”

That is what San Francisco resident Butch Garcia, owner of Cristina’s Restaurant here, warns will happen if gold miners continue to ignore the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by Governor Adolph Edward Plaza on July 8 this year against miners operating within the Mt. Magdiwata watershed.

Garcia said he is “afraid of a Ginsaugon-like tragedy burying the town.” He was referring to the February 2006 mudslide in Guinsaugon, St. Bernard, Leyte where at least a thousand persons were killed.

Tarpaulin warning dire consequences to people in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur should mining continue in the watershed. MindaNerws photo by GG Bueno

Mt. Magdiwata is a proclaimed watershed area that is “closed to mining activity pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 282 and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.”  It is the principal source of water of the San Francisco Water District (SFWD).

Four violations, however, have been recorded by  the SFWD since Plaza’s CDO was issued.

In his CDO addressed to Judito Pintado of Sitio Sumugbong, Barangay Alegria of this town, Governor Plaza said that a memorandum of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau regional office based on the results of an investigating team organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR’s) Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, showed that “you have conducted small-scale mining activity within the Mt. Magdiwata watershed area without necessary permit issued by this office and having operated within the proclaimed watershed area which is closed to mining activity pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 282 and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.”

“You are hereby ordered effective immediately to Cease and Desist from further operating the said area upon the receipt of this order, otherwise legal sanction pursuant to the pertinent provision of RA 7942 and its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (DAO 96-40, as amended) and other relevant Environment Laws will be imposed upon you.

How many huge trees have been felled for the tunnels’ timber support?  Photos by SFWD, captions by Butch Garcia.

Copies of the CDO were furnished the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau-13; Environmental Management Bureau – 13; Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office,  Agusan del Sur;  Barangay Alegria local government unit; San Francisco local government unit; CENRO San Francisco; Municipal ENRO, Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board, Philippine National Police- Provincial Planning and Development Office and San Francisco Water District.

On July 15, Elmer Luzon, general manager of the San Francisco Water District (SFWD) wrote members of the Board that despite Plaza’s CDO, Pintado continued his illegal mining operations in Sitio Sumugbong, Barangay Alegria.

He referred to a joint report dated July 14 by the Watershed Monitoring Offices (WMOs) and the  chemist and production section head of SFWD.

Despite the cease and desist order of the GovernorThe report said Plaza’s CDO was served by the DENr-CENRO, PNP, PENRO-LGU and MENRO personnel on July 13,  “but the mining operation in the area is still continuously done and performed.”

It added that upon their arrival in the Judito Pentado area at Sumugbong around 11:30 a.m. on July 14, “we observed that one tunnel was temporarily closed and the ball mill is not in operation but the other tunnel (was undergoing) clearing operation in preparation for timber installation.”

Photographs of  the mining operations were attached to the report.

On July 20, another set of WMOs certified in a letter to Luzon that the tunnels owned and operated by Pentado “are continuously operational” based on their July 16 to 20 monitoring.  “The timber installation of one of the tunnels is still currently ongoing as of July 20, 2010. Meanwhile, the other tunnel, as per reliable information, operates during nighttime.”

On July 27, WMOs again wrote Luzon that between 3 and 5 p.m., there was “hauling of sacks of mineral stocks from the tunnels of illegal gold-mining operations of Judito Pentado” within the Magdiwata watershed.

“We immediately coordinated with the DENR office but no one from its personnel is available to apprehend this illegal activity intercepted,” the WMOs’ report said.

July 27 is a Tuesday.

“They only advised us to take pictures of the loading and hauling of the stocks for transport out.”

A carabao-drawn sled or kanga and an Elf truck were used for hauling the sacks of gold ore.

The WMO report said there were “more or less 80 sacks of the aforementioned stock material but we had only counted 53 sacks because of the resistance of the unidentified cohorts of  Judito Pentado.”

On  July 29, the WMOs found 35 sacks of ore outside the third tunnel of Pentado at around 5:30 a.m., allegedly from the previous night’s diggings.

The tunnel is approximately 35 meters away from the tapping point of the proposed water sources in Sumugbong Creek. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)