10 gold tunnels in danger zone face closure

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/28 June) – At least 10 gold tunnels in T’boli, South Cotabato lying in an extremely high-risk area will be closed, an official said on Thursday.

Siegfried Flaviano, Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said the tunnels have been considered highly at risk to landslide based on the geographic coordinates mapping conducted in Barangay Kematu, site of the “minahang bayan” where small-scale miners operate.

“These tunnels are directly in the path of landslides. Their closure will be for the good of the workers as we are getting them out of the danger zone,” Flaviano told MindaNews.

Without naming the operators, he said they will immediately close the tunnels after the stoppage order from the governor’s office comes out.

Flaviano said the number of tunnels that will be closed would possibly rise as they have yet to finalize the geographic coordinate hazard study.

The initial assessment report has been submitted already to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to form part of the agency’s geohazard mapping.

Last March, the provincial government started establishing the geographic coordinates of high-risk areas in the gold-rich town of T’boli in a bid to make small-scale mining operations there safe.

In coordination with the MGB regional office, Flaviano noted the move was meant to avert tragedy in the small-scale mining site, and is in line with the drive against illegal mining activities in the town.

It is also part of the provincial government’s disaster-risk reduction management initiatives in compliance to Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, he said.

There are an estimated 300 tunnels operated by small-scale miners in Barangay Kematu, which the provincial government has been trying to regulate to avoid disaster as well as to increase revenues from the industry.

This year, the provincial government was expecting to generate P30 million from the small-scale mining industry players in the area, Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said.

Pingoy said they are confident of reaching the target as the provincial government has been “enforcing its political will” to flush out illegal small-scale mining activities in the area.

The intensified drive against illegal mining activities increased the province’s collection to P9.2 million last year from P6.6 million in 2010.

Last year, Pingoy issued crackdown orders against small-scale tunnel miners and gold processors in T’boli town operating without permits, which he noted had denied the provincial government its rightful income from these sectors.

The crackdown was pursuant to provincial Ordinance No. 7, Series of 2003, known as “An ordinance levying taxes, fees, charges and other impositions on small-scale mining, mineral processing operations, and transporting of mineral ores within the province of South Cotabato and providing the rules and regulations thereof.” (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)