Tampakan police involved in illegal mining?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 September) – Police officials in South Cotabato province have vowed to investigate the alleged involvement of police personnel in Tampakan town in the continuing illegal mining activities in the area.

Senior Supt. Randolph Delfin, South Cotabato police director, said in a press conference on Wednesday that he will personally look into claims by tribal leaders of Tampakan that some policemen in the area have allegedly been acting as protectors of the destructive illegal “banlas” or sluice mining operations.

Two weeks ago, B’laan tribal chieftain Dalina Samling of Barangay Danlag in Tampakan revealed in a public forum in Koronadal City that the illegal sluice mining activities in some upland villages in the area have persisted due to the protection given by local policemen.

She said some policemen assigned at the municipal police station supposedly act as tipsters for the illegal miners whenever a raid would be launched by the joint anti-illegal mining task force that was earlier activated by the municipal government of Tampakan and the provincial government of South Cotabato.

“(The task force) should not involve the policemen who were in contact with these illegal miners in their raids. These policemen should be transferred to other areas,” she said during a recent signing of a memorandum of agreement for a tree-growing project in Tampakan.

Delfin urged tribal leaders of Tampakan and other local residents to provide them with more information regarding the matter, especially the identity of the policemen involved.

“I will take this up with the concerned (police) officials and personnel. Rest assured that I will personally look into it,” the police official said.

Tampakan officials admitted that the local government is facing difficulty in apprehending those behind the illegal mining activities due to the mobile type of operations employed by the miners.

Eileen Estrada, Tampakan municipal environment and natural resources officer, said that the recent raids conducted by the joint anti-illegal mining task force had become futile as the illegal miners were no longer around when they reached the area.

“It’s basically a hide and seek game there,” she said.

Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo said they received reports that some mining operators from the Mt. Diwalwal gold rush area have transferred to his town to pursue illegal mining activities.

He said the illegal operations were reportedly backed by financiers or investors that have links to some politicians, whom he did not identify.

“Our higher authorities should look into this matter. We need to protect our forests and (mineral) resources from these illegal activities,” the mayor said.

“Banlas” or sluice mining involves the pouring of large amounts of water on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore, and then pan them with mercury.

The use of the illegal mining method 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.

Reports said the sluice mining operations are centered in Kampo Kilot of Barangay Pulabato in Tampakan, where at least two hectares of a mountain in the area was already destroyed based on an aerial survey earlier conducted by the provincial government.

Last April, four people were killed in the area due to a major landslide, which local authorities blamed on the illegal mining operations.

In August, the local government of Tampakan reported that a water analysis of the rivers near the illegal mining sites showed that the level of mercury in the water has already reached 1.7 microgram per liter (mc/L) or “340 times beyond the maximum limit for the protection of public health.” (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)