Bukidnon eyes Libona mine site as ‘minahan ng bayan’

MALAYBALAY CITY  (MindaNews/23 October)  — The Bukidnon Provincial Government has urged small scale miners in Sitio Manlahuyan, Gango, Libona, Bukidnon to comply with the requirements for the declaration of about 58 hectares there as “Minahan ng Bayan,” Samuel Cadavos, Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Officer said.

Cadavos said Bukidnon Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr called on the Bukidnon Small Scale Miners Association (BUSSMA) and the Bukidnon Integrated Small Miners Association (BISMA) to merge to process the requirements.

But Cadavos said the status of the land is the biggest obstacle to the planned declaration as the area is reportedly part of the Forest Land Graze Management Agreement granted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to the Pelaez family.

According to a DENR database of the FLGMA areas in the Philippines, E.Pelaez Ranch Inc. area was issued an FLGMA over a 2,000 hectare there in June 1996. The FLGMA will expire in December 2020.

Cadavos quoted Zubiri as saying they will convince the Pelaezes to waive their FLGMA rights over the 58-hectare land proposed to be the “minahan ng bayan.” But he said no waiver has been obtained yet as of September 2011.

Cadavos said declaring the area as “minahan ng bayan” according to RA 7076, will help them solve the “complicated problem” concerning the small-scale mining.

Cadavos warned members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in September that the mining operations in the area have become a complex “social, technical, environmental and political” problem.

“I ask your help to stop this problem,” he appealed to the provincial board members then.

Cadavos noted that he had ordered several times the closure of the mine sites, to no avail. He warned that operators are now armed and resisting government attempts to stop mining.

Two groups of operators are running the minesite: BISSMA and BUSSMA.  They have a membership of at least 2,000 small-scale miners but none of them has secured a small-scale mining permit from the provincial government, Cadavos said.

The operations, he added, include prospecting, exploration, actual extraction of gold ore from tunnels, and processing and recovery of gold using mercury and cyanide.

He said that during their last visit on August 23, they found ball mills, rod mills and a carbon in-pulp plant used in processing and recovering gold, which they used aside from the common tailings pond constructed by the province.

Following his presentation at the SP, Zubiri led a team of officials for a meeting with representatives from the small scale mining groups, the municipal government, and other stakeholders.

Earlier, Cadavos said the small-scale gold miners operating illegally and using mercury and cyanide, were financed by foreigners. But he told MindaNews this week that the Chinese nationals he reported earlier were only financiers of the WHK Manufacturing and Trading Corporation, who obtained a memorandum of agreement with Libona mayor Leonardo Genesis Calingasan, to clean the tailings pond constructed by the provincial government.

Cadavos also earlier said that although the MOA was for WHK to do the cleaning, it now appears that the firm has illegally gone into gold processing as well as investigators noted that there are now structures for mineral processing being used by WHK. Investigators also found sacks of extracted gold ore in the processing site.

He said they  advised WHK to stop and secure a permit prior to any mining operation.

WHK manager Alvin Shi denied they were in the area for gold.

In 1986, small-scale miners began to operate in the area, previously proposed for “minahan ng bayan.” Cadavos said the provincial government through the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) during the administration of former governor, now vice governor, Jose Maria R. Zubiri Jr.

“However, until this time there (has been) no official communication received from the DENR  regarding status of their application,” Cadavos said.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR-10 issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against illegal mining and illegal mineral processing in the area as of August 3, 2011. Alfredo Relampagos, MGB regional director who signed the order, also warned about the common tailings pond in the area.

Relampagos wrote to Cadavos on Aug. 12 that they found spillage of effluents containing mercury and cyanide and sediments from the pond resulting in a “very high total suspended solids.”

Cadavos described the situation in his Sept. 14 report to the SP as “increase on mercury contamination.” He called for a stakeholders’ dialogue to address the “multi-faceted problem.”

Cadavos has ruled out recommending closure of the mines because “it would mean loss of livelihood.”. (Walter I. Balane /MindaNews)