Task group formation eyed to stop illegal mining in Tampakan

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/06 May)—A multi-agency task group will be created in a bid to stop illegal small-scale mining operations within the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., alongside the setting up of a detachment to enforce a no-entry policy, a top provincial official said on Friday.

Moves to set up a detachment was backed by Sagittarius Mines, which promised to help in the maintenance of the outpost through food and allowances to members of the paramilitary Civilian Volunteers’ Organization, South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr disclosed.

“They’re [Sagittarius Mines] more than willing to support us [in curbing the illegal mining operations],” Pingoy told a local radio station, referring to sluice mining activities.

The task group will reportedly be composed of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Provincial Environmental Management Office, the local government unit of Tampakan, police and the military.

John B. Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, admitted the company could not protect its mines development area from illegal miners because the company “lacks the authority.”

“We have no police powers to go after these elements,” he earlier said, adding they have been in close coordination with the proper authorities such as the Philippine National Police to stamp out the nagging problem.

The illegal sluice mining operation, locally called banlas, was uncovered in the mountains of Tampakan as early as 2008, with 26 individuals facing charges for their alleged involvement in the unlawful activity.

The destructive method employs the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore, which the miners would later pan using mercury.

Last April 2, a landslide buried alive four illegal mine workers in Sitio Anten, Barangay Pulabato in Tampakan municipality, one of the villages straddled by the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines.

Local officials blamed banlas mining for the landslide triggered by heavy rains that poured over the area then.

Pingoy said the provincial government could “not afford” the upkeep of the detachment that would be set up in Pulabato to prevent entry to the illegal small-scale mining site.

Following the death of the four miners, the Tampakan municipal council has approved a resolution imposing a no-entry policy in the deadly illegal mining zone.

The governor conceded that it is difficult to contain banlas mining as there are reportedly local officials involved in the illegal operations. Pingoy, however, did not name names.

Also, even before raiding teams could arrive in the area, the miners would have escaped as cohorts could notify them, the governor said.

It’s a case of the guards being guarded also by those they are guarding, he added.

The Tampakan project of Sagittarius Mines is touted as the largest known undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia and also trumpeted as the single largest foreign direct investment to the country if it proceeds to commercial operation in 2016, with capital expenditures pegged at $5.9 billion.

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, exercises management supervision at the Tampakan project through its 62.5% controlling equity at Sagittarius Mines. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)