T’boli small-scale mine sites face closure

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 April) – The provincial government of South Cotabato is considering the permanent closure of at least three small-scale mining sites in T’boli town due to their vulnerability to landslides and other mining-related geo-hazards.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said a technical team commissioned by the local government to conduct safety inspections on the mining sites at the gold-rush village of Kematu in T’boli has recommended the permanent stoppage of the mining operations at the main portion of the mining area as it is prone to major landslides.

He said the technical team, which was composed of personnel from the Provincial Environment Management Office and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 12, also urged the immediate closure of the existing mine tunnels in the area due to serious safety concerns.

“A significant portion of the mining area had long been considered as high-risk to geo-hazards and the situation there has worsened during the last several years mainly due to the reported abuses by some mining operators,” the governor said.

The provincial government earlier suspended all small-scale mining activities in T’boli town after four miners were buried alive in a landslide last Mach 30 in several mine tunnels in Barangay Kematu.

Geology experts at the MGB-Region 12 had identified Kematu as a high-risk area based on its geo-hazard mapping.

Jaime Flores, MGB-Region 12’s chief geologist, said their earlier assessment showed that the mining sites in 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 already resulted to the devastation of 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.

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.

Pingoy said he will convene the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) this week to discuss the situation in Kematu and the recommendations of the technical team.

He said they will invite mining operators, local officials and other stakeholders to a dialogue to discuss possible scenarios in case the area would be permanently closed down.

“We will tackle all issues and concerns pertaining to the proposed permanent closure of the mining sites. The biggest challenge here that we need to address is the issue on the livelihood of the local miners and residents,” the governor added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)