250 small-scale miners in Bayog face dislocation

BALABAG, Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur (MindaNews/31 January) — About 250 small-scale miners and some 5,000 residents of this barangay face displacement once TVI Resource Development Inc. (TVIRD), a subsidiary Canadian company starts open-pit mining operations under a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) covering 4,779 hectares.

Mario Abaster, corporate community relations officer of TVIRD, said the MPSA includes the 20 hectares operated by small-scale miners belonging to the Monte de Oro Small Scale Miners Association (MOSSMA).

Abaster said that they will only finish the exploration of 10 drilling sites before doing actual mining operations.

TVIRD will mine gold, silver and copper in Bayog, Gudod and Bayog towns, where it has already set up billboards announcing to visitors that they have “entered TVI’s minesite.”

Abaster said they have started telling the small-scale miners to vacate the site and he claimed the firm has done an inventory of flora and fauna in its areas of operations.

But small-scale miners cried foul saying they have been in the area since the late 1980s and have constantly asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of Region 9 to legalize their status.

“Despite our efforts, we were instead issued with cease-and-desist order from these offices including the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board and the provincial government,” said Arandy Silva, vice chair of MOSSMA.

He said they have been mining for many years and have been contributing to the local economy, although he admitted they are facing questions with regard to mine safety.

Silva said indigenous peoples who rely on small-scale mining in the absence of other economic opportunities will also be displaced, adding they send their children to school with money earned from this activity.

Edgar Baling, consultant to MOSSMA, said they already wrote to President Aquino asking him to intervene and exempt the 20 hectares from the MPSA of TVIRD.

“Our refined gold products are sold at Central Bank and therefore the government is earning from our labor. If we are supported by the local government, we can be at par with the foreign companies,” he added.

Silva said that they have performed their social responsibility to the community by paying royalty to the indigenous community in Bayog, providing generator-sourced electricity to the barangay, developing a water system, and supplying medicines and first aid response to ailing miners.

Recently, Bayog officials visited the mine site and advised MOSSMA to relocate the commercial areas in the upper portion of Depore and to educate their members on environment laws and disaster risk reduction.

Bayog Mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. said the local government will put up a sub-office of the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office and a police substation in Balabag to monitor and help implement environment laws and discourage crimes like prostitution, child labor, killings and peddling of illegal drugs.

Silva said that small-scale miners have been accused of promoting prostitution due to the presence of videokes, tolerating drug and substance abuse, and allowing child labor in mine sites, among others.

During the mining forum here on January 26 he denied the accusations saying they would report illegal activities to the police.

He said they are following laws including the People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1991 (Republic Act 7076).

Silva admitted however that they are using mercury and that 18 of their members are using cyanide in mixing ores.

Babasa said that while dialogues have taken place between TVIRD and the small-scale miners, they are looking closely into the effects of mining on the environment.

He said agriculture is the primary source of income in the town and mining only contributes 15 percent to their economy. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)