Foot patrol proposed to curb illegal mining in Tampakan

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/2 June) – The local government unit in Tampakan, South Cotabato wanted regular foot patrols in a landslide-prone illegal mining site where three miners were buried alive in April.

In a chance interview here early this week, Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo said the patrolling of a composite police and military team would “deter small-scale illegal miners from returning” to Barangay Pulabato.

“We don’t have enough local police forces, so instead of setting up a detachment there, I proposed a regular foot patrolling in the area,” he said.

The mayor noted that with the measure, they also hope to prevent another deadly landslide incident, which was blamed on the illegal sluice mining, locally called banlas.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. earlier said that an estimated two hectares of the mountains have reportedly been destroyed by guerilla banlas operations within the Tampakan project.

Banlas or sluice mining method employs the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore.

Banlas mining was first uncovered in T’boli town, another gold rush site in South Cotabato, and has invaded Tampakan town a few years ago despite the crackdown ordered by the provincial government.

Escobillo said that checkpoints have been set up in the roads leading to the mountains also in line with the efforts to curb illegal mining activities in the town, host of the massive Tampakan copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

Sagittarius Mines has been criticized for failing to keep illegal mining activities away from its tenement.

Sagittarius Mines is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as minority equity partner. Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corp. owns a stake at Indophil.

The Tampakan copper-gold project represents the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in Southeast Asia. If developed, the mine could be the biggest in the Philippines and among the largest copper mines in the world.

Current estimates indicate it could yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per year over the estimated 17-year life of the mining site, the company said in a study.

With a required capital investment of US$5.9 billion, the Tampakan project would be the largest foreign direct investment in the Philippines should it go on commercial stream in 2016.

The Tampakan project, however, is presently hobbled by the environment code of South Cotabato that bans open pit mining, the method Sagittarius Mines said it will employ in extracting the minerals. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)