Police, soldiers raid illegal mine sites in Iponan

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/28 February) — The crackdown against illegal mining in Iponan has started.

Heavily armed Army soldiers and policemen swooped down on illegal mining sites in Opol town, Misamis Oriental and confiscated a dozen diesel-powered hydraulic pumps this morning.

Authorities made no arrests but there was no resistance either from the illegal miners who watched helplessly as the soldiers and police dismantled their hydraulic pumps and loaded them into a waiting six-by-six truck.

Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Norris Babiera said the raid was only the start of the crackdown on illegal hydraulic mining operations along Iponan River, the natural boundary between this city and Opol town.

But the raiders did not include the mining operators who were issued “special operating permits” by Mayor Vicente Emano and the Cagayan de Oro City Council.

Danny Belderol, chief of the DENR mines division said their regional office issued instructions not to include in the operations the mining sites that were given “special permits” by city officials.

“We are still studying legal implications of the special permits issued by Mayor Emano,” Belderol told reporters.

The city government earlier said there are only two mining firms operating in Iponan but an opposition councilor disclosed that City Hall approved the mining licenses of nine firms using “special permits.”

Councilor Edgar Cabanlas identified the mining firms as Dinamet Mining Corporation, Yellow Stone Development Corporation, White Pearl Asia Corporation, Perfect World Mining Corporation, Javez Hinterland Resources and Cagayan de oro Finest Metals.

Cabanlas said that aside from these firms, two individuals identified as Maria Victor Lagbas and Virgilio Agus were issued “special permits” allegedly by Mayor Vicente Emano.

Babiera said they were still checking the ownership of the 12 hydraulic pumps they have seized in Barangay Bagokbok , Opol town this morning.

During a recent Provincial Peace and Order Council meeting, Conrado Sescon, Misamis Oriental Environment and Natural Resources Officer identified six of the alleged financiers of the illegal hydraulic mining operations in the hinterlands of Cagayan de Oro and Opol town, which have caused massive siltation of the Iponan River, which drains into the Macajalar Bay.

Gov. Oscar Moreno also asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau to check reports that Iponan River is now heavily contaminated with mercury, a toxic chemical used in separating gold from the ore.

A miner, Tines Mabunay, 56, showed reporters in Barangay Pagalungan, Cagayan de Oro several white specks on his pan, which he said were mercury used to make gold sink in the pans.

Mabunay said all the men in Pagalungan are engaged in the illegal mining trade.

“You cannot see anyone in the village during the day. Everyone is working in the mines,” Mabunay said.

He said he earns P350 a day panning gold along Iponan River from 6am o 4 pm. An ounce of gold sells for P1,800 in Cagayan de Oro.

“It is enough to feed my family of seven. Without gold, all of us in barangay Pagalungan will go hungry,” Mabunay said.

He said he had tried farming but stopped because it is capital-extensive and tedious.

“I have been looking for gold here for 20 years. This is the work I have known,” he said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)