Residents decry continuing illegal mining activities in Maitum

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 March)—Local stakeholders in rustic Maitum town in Sarangani have raised fears unabated illegal small-scale mining might destroy the town’s watershed that has brought fame to the town via the river tubing adventure in Barangay New La Union.

A recent open letter addressed to Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez obtained on Thursday appealed for a stop to these illegal activities in Sitio Kaffugan, Barangay New La Union, and for the prosecution of the unnamed operators.

“Since July 2010, the governor’s office has had little success ending the [illegal small-scale] mining and related illegal timber harvesting [there]. These activities have, in fact, expanded,” the stakeholders said.

The letter was signed by Elizabeth Palma Gil of the Maitum Advocates for Sustainable Environment, Inc.; Rolando Lequin of the Concerned Citizens of Maitum; and Daniel Evans of the Datu Wali Mission.

They recalled that at the start of the illegal mining operations in Kaffugan, elementary school attendance in Barangay New La Union purportedly dropped by 50% because children as young as seven years old were employed by mine operators to haul gold ores to waiting trucks.

Adult laborers later replaced most of these children, they added.

The groups reported that trees in Kaffugan and its surroundings “have been reduced to nearly nothing,” with the cut logs used to reinforce mine tunnels, which have increased to 25.

Kaffugan is considered a headwater source for the Pangi River,a tourist attraction of the town where one may experience river tubing adventure.

In June last year, the provincial, municipal and barangays governments jointly issued a stoppage order to mining activities in the area. “That order was disregarded and activity continued (sic),” the letter said.

Authorities the next month conducted an operation resulting in the arrest of 20 mineworkers and the discovery of 14 mining tunnels operating without permits. Several cut trees were also seen in the area.

This prompted Maitum Mayor Elsie Lucille Perrett to file charges against the arrested miners for violations of Republic Act 7076 (People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991) and Presidential Decree 1899 (Establishing Small-Scale Mining as a New Dimension in Mineral Development).

Aside from the environmental concerns brought about by the continuing illegal mining operations, the stakeholders also feared it will increase criminal activities and will further cause social ills.

Sought for comment, Dominguez said the provincial government has established an Army detachment Sitio Kaffugan, but added he has not received any report yet on the effectivity of the checkpoint when asked if such measure was working.

He also noted that they are still in the process of reviewing small-scale mining applications and would activate a mineral resource board “to ensure proper regulation by both the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the local government units.”

“The stoppage order is still in effect which is being monitored by the provincial and municipal police units,” Dominguez said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)