GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 28 Aug) – Environment personnel in South Cotabato province are pushing for the immediate installation of permanent Army outposts or detachments in several upland villages in Tampakan town due to the worsening illegal “banlas” or sluice mining activities in the area.
Lourdes Jumilla, senior environment specialist of the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), said Wednesday their latest assessment showed that illegal mining activities in Tampakan have intensified anew and the extent of the sluice mining area has widened in the last several months.
She said the illegal mining area now covers vast areas of Sitio Campo Kilot in Barangay Pula Bato and parts of the neighboring Barangay Tablu.
Jumilla, who headed the PEMO team that inspected the area late last week, said they found a number of bunkhouses and illegal mining equipment, specifically big water hoses stretching about a kilometer long, installed within the area.
“The (banlas) operations already destroyed a significant area of the mountains there and triggered some landslides that affected some roads in Barangays Tablu and Pula Bato in the past several weeks,” she said in a radio interview.
Banlas mining, which is considered a highly-destructive mining method, involves the pouring of large amounts of water using high-pressure water jets on a mountain’s surface to extract the rocks containing the gold ore, and then pan them with mercury.
The use of the illegal mining method, which was first uncovered in a mining village in T’boli town, has increased in the last several years in several small-scale mining areas in Tampakan.
Jumilla said the illegal mining activities have caused the accumulation of loads of silt along the river-tributaries of the critical Topland and Marbel Rivers.
She said the two rivers, which traces their headwaters to the uplands of Tampakan, traverses Barangays Pula Bato, Liberty and Buto in Tampakan as well as Magsaysay, Concepcion, Bo. 4 and Namnama in Koronadal City.
Aside from the accumulation of silt, which have been causing severe flooding in the lowland communities traversed by the two rivers, local environment personnel had found traces of mercury in several river-tributaries in the area.
Jumilla said they already recommended to South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, who heads the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, the immediate installation of Army outposts and the deployment of more troops in the area to avert the illegal mining activities.
She admitted that they could not regularly monitor the illegal activities in the area due to the lack of personnel.
A task force led by PEMO had conducted a number of random inspections in the “banlas” mining areas in the last two years and even made some arrests but the illegal activities still persisted.
“The situation in the area is now quite alarming and we really need the permanent presence of our troops there to stop these illegal activities,” she added.