South Cotabato allows resumption of closed gold tunnels

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/15 November) — Less than a month after closing the illegal small-scale gold mining activities in the gold-rush town of T’boli in South Cotabato, the provincial government allowed several operators to resume operations on Tuesday, officials said.

Isidro Janita, provincial government administrator, said those allowed to resume operations have acquired permits following the crackdown on illegal mining activities in Barangay Kematu last month.

“Still, the closure order is in effect to those who have no permits,” he said in a press conference here.

Some 300 gold mining tunnels maintained by small-scale operators were closed last month for lack of permits from the provincial government.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. led the reopening of the tunnels that have been given permits, said Ninfa Estabillo, provincial information officer.

Pingoy was supposed to be the key panelist in the monthly press conference dubbed “The Governor Meets the Press.”

Janita said that legalizing the operations of the small-scale mining operators would boost the revenue generating capacity of the province.

The province can generate at least one million pesos from their operations if they are paying the necessary permits and taxes, he said, noting that the previous year’s collection from them was less than P300,000 only

Lourdes Jumilla, secretariat head of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB), earlier said that the small-scale tunnel operators would be allowed to operate if they can also comply with the environmental and work safety requirements.

Closure of the small-scale mining area, comprising 21 hectares, also came because of the overlapping land claim of the T’boli Minahang Bayan Multi-Purpose Cooperative and the Maguan clan in the gold-rich mountain.

In 1994, then Gov. Hilario de Pedro III issued Executive Order (EO) 12 declaring the 21 hectares as “minahang bayan” or people’s mining site in favor of the TMBMPC.

In recent years, the Maguan clan claimed the area is under their ancestral domain, hence mining operations there by the TMBMPC members should have their consent.

Pingoy told reporters last month the provincial government has “no other choice” but to close the illegal mining operations after the small-scale operators had been given about 20 months to comply with the requirements but failed to do so.

During the administration of then governor and now Second District Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes, the provincial government also closed the small-scale mining in Barangay Kematu because of the land dispute.

The 21 hectares is within the tenement of Tribal Mining Corp’s 85-hectare under Mineral Production Sharing Agreement 090-97-XI granted in 1997. The agreement has a lifespan of 25 years.

Tribal Mining has partnered with Canadian firm Cadan Resources Corp. for the commercial development of its T’boli gold-silver project, which is just awaiting the final approvals from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

The Court of Appeals earlier ruled that the conflict over rights between the mining firm and the small-scale miners involving the disputed area shall be resolved by a Regional Panel of Arbitrators, which is a quasi-judicial body annexed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)