MGB orders stop to illegal mining in San Fernando

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/1 September) – The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Northern Mindanao 10 (DENR-10) has ordered a stop of the illegal small scale gold mining operations in Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon

Rodante Felina, officer in charge of the MGB mine management division, said the MGB regional director, Alfredo Relampagos, signed the order and issued it in early August. He said the MGB has officially requested San Fernando Mayor Laurencia Edma to implement the order.

Felina, who briefed members of the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan Wednesday on the MGB’s environmental and social framework of mining, said the order was addressed to all illegal small scale gold miners in the area “to stop their illegal activities within the exploration permit area of San Christo Mineral Exploration Corporation.”

But Felina admitted they have no update on the implementation of the order.

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Edma could not be contacted through her mobile phone number as of Thursday morning. But Cecil Ignar, acting Bukidnon environment and natural resources officer, said there is no report on the implementation yet reaching their office.

She clarified that San Christo has an application for a mining exploration permit pending at the MGB 10. The Bukidnon provincial board has passed an ordinance banning even mining explorations in the province.

Small-scale gold mining in a hinterland district in San Fernando, Bukidnon has been fetching around a million pesos a day but since it is illegal, neither the barangay nor the municipal or provincial government is earning from it, a report from the Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Office (BENRO) last June said.

The report said there are close to 1,000 miners panning for gold in the Salug River in Dao, which can be reached after a two-kilometer hike from the last stop of a motorcycle ride.
The miners recover about a kilogram of gold per day, which is sold on site at P1,400 per gram, the report quoted village councilor Fausto Bacleran as saying.

Panning is the oldest method of mining gold.

The mining activity has changed the economic landscape in the area as residents abandoned their farms in favor of panning as their main source of livelihood, the report said.

But the multi-million peso operation violates Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1991. The report noted that the operations pose serious environmental and health risks as miners use motorized water pump to separate the precious material from the deposit. Human waste, too, is thrown into the river, according to a source quoted in the BENRO report.

The problem reached the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan in June and Vice Governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. ordered an investigation in aid of legislation.

Dao barangay captain Jimmy Ligoyon said in the hearing that the miners are mostly from the indigenous peoples (Matigasalug and Tiguahanons) in the area but there are also those who come from outside town, including non-IP miners.

Ligoyon said Dao has local gold buyers. But an armed group under a certain Carillo Salusad or “Kumander Salusad” was reported to have allegedly brokered and earned from the transactions. Ligoyon denied the panning activities use mercury.

But San Fernando councilor Richard V. Tabuclaon told this reporter that the mining activities are already causing peace and order problems. He said cases of killings and robbery increased in the area.

He added that back in 2006, the MGB did a survey of the area upon request, and the survey showed it is positive of gold. The local government asked the MGB to declare it as a “Minahan ng Bayan” but no declaration has been made.

He cited as one of the reasons the absence of a local people’s organization which is a requirement of the law.

If legalized, the area will become the province’s first “Minahan ng Bayan” after a site in Libona became problematic over an earlier issued tenurial instrument, said Wilfredo Tagadiad, a BENRO officer assigned to small scale mining.

A BENRO team was scheduled to visit the area to investigate the alleged illegal mining activities in Dao on June 10.

But Tagadiad, who headed the team, said local officials from the town warned them that going by themselves was “too risky” because of the armed groups and the recent slaying of a barangay official in the barangay next to Dao.

He told this reporter they did not proceed but instead interviewed sources from the area who were in Halapitan, the town center.

In the hearing at the provincial board earlier this month, some members feared that the situation in Dao would become the next Diwalwal, a gold rush site in Mt. Diwata, Monkayo, Compostela Valley, whose population reached around 80,000 in the early 1980s.

The report also said that in March, this year, Dao councilor Bacleran said the mining activities had been going on for some time but peaked in November 2010 because of the entry of many miners. He said miners use flasher or screen although he cited that there are three tunnels that have been dug to recover gold.

In February this year, the municipal government ordered a stoppage of the mining operations but miners did not budge, Bacleran was quoted as saying in the minutes of a strategic planning session organized by CENRO Felix Mirasol on March 25.

Tagadiad recommended in his report to declare the area as a “minahan ng Bayan” if qualified, so the government can regulate it.

The San Fernando municipal council and the DENR called on the tribal council and barangay council officials in the area for a consultation on the issue. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)