DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 April ) – The Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) in Western Mindanao has issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) against “all forms of illegal mining activities” in the region, including small-scale operations in the contested gold-rich Balabag Hill in Barangay Depore, Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.
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The order, issued by MGB-9 OIC Regional Director Albert Johann Jacildo on April 13 but released on April 16, said illegal mining activities in the region have become rampant and alarming as it has “not only depleted government mineral resources but caused unnecessary violence in affected areas resulting to loss of people’s lives.”
The CDO’s release came a day after Mayor Leonardo Babasa convened the Crisis Management Committee to find ways to defuse the tension at the minesite in Balabag. The Committee passed a resolution asking TVI Resource Development (Phils), Inc. to allow the entry of diesel fuel pending the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board’s (PMRB) resolution on who has rights over the mining area.
Since April 5, trucks bearing diesel fuel and other mining-related materials have been barred entry at the Inter-Agency checkpoint at the junction in Depore as TVI, a Philippine affiliate of the Canadian publicly-listed TVI Pacific, claims it has rights over the gold-rich area as holder of a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) covering 4,779 hectares under the Mining Act of 1995. The Monte de Oro Small-Scale Mining Association (Mossma), on the other hand, claims it has prior rights under the People’s Mining Act of 1991 over a portion of TVI’s MPSA, which it wants segregated and declared as Minahang Bayan or People’s Small-Scale Mining Area.
Diesel is used to run the rod mills and cyanidation plants of Mossma members but TVI maintains the operating illegally.
The contested area is less than a hundred hectares, based on Mossma’s claims of from 20 hectares to 80 hectares.
TVI geologist Jay Elvina, OIC of the Balabag Exploration Project told MindaNews on Friday that the contested area is about 10 hectares. He said this area has a confirmed presence of about 100,000 ounces of gold and a life of mine of “five to 10 years.”
An ounce of gold at Sunday’s trading price costs USD 1,657.38 per ounce or PhP70,670.68.
TVI has been negotiating with Mossma members and has compensated a number of them for the dismantling of their structures at the minesite and signing a waiver and quitclaim. But a number of miners have refused to vacate the area.
The Municipal Peace and Order Council on Friday passed an urgent resolution asking the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) headed by MGB regional director Jacildo to immediately resolve the mining rights issue. The PMRB’s last meeting on February 17 gave Mossma, TVI and itself 90 days or up to May 17 within which to submit position papers and study the issue, after which “the matter will be evaluated by the Board and another meeting will be scheduled for the deliberations and decision.”
MindaNews late Sunday e-mailed Ron Jabal, TVI’s Public Affairs Director, on the company’s response to the Crisis Committee’s resolution passed on Sunday but he said Monday noon that the national government through the MGB “has already intervened in the issue by issuing a Cease and Desist Order against all forms of illegal mining activities in Region IX.”
“We are expecting pertinent authorities to implement this in our mineral development area in Balabag, Bayog Zamboanga del Sur,” he said.
Jacildo ordered the stoppage of “all forms of illegal mining activities in the region including but not limited to small-scale mining operations “absent the requisite People’s Small-Scale Mining Contact in violation of Section 8, Republic Act 7076 otherwise known as the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991;” and “Carbon-in-pulp (CIP) gold processing operations absent the required Mineral Processing Permit which is punishable under Chapter XI of DAO No. 2010-21 implementing Republic Act 7942 otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.”
Arandy Silva, Mossma’s chief operations officer, told MindaNews they will file a motion for reconsideration of the CDO.
Meanwhile, a report from the Police Regional Office in Zamboanga del Sur Monday evening said Depore barangay captain Francisco Arado was shot dead and two other barangay officials injured in a shooting incident at around 5:20 p.m.
The report identified the injured officials as barangay councilor Ernesto Mancao and barangay secretary Editha Navarro. Both were rushed to Pagadian Hospital.
No other details were made available. It is not clear if the shooting incident has anything to do with the tension in Depore.
Mayor Babasa told MindaNews, “it’s possible.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)