BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews / 6 Nov) – A joint government task force raided before dawn Tuesday (Nov. 5) in one of the hinterland barangays here what is believed to be the biggest illegal small-scale mining operation.
But police said the Chinese nationals known to have financed the operation have reportedly escaped in the melee.
Seized from the site are heavy machineries, which include two backhoes, two large grinding machines, two engines, and several meters of plastic and large metal pipes.
The raid was conducted around 3 a.m. beside the Taligaman River in Purok 8 in Barangay Taligaman by personnel of the City Public Safety Company (CSPC), Regional Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RASTAF), Caraga Police Regional Office 13 and City Environment and Natural Resource Office (CENRO).
Jess Ivan Saburao, environmental management specialist of the CENRO, pointed out that the illegal mining site was the largest in terms of the equipment confiscated.
“We are still trying to estimate the total cost of the mining operation but we are sure this is the largest. The size of the hole that was dug is quite deep,” he said.
Saburao said they still have to consult with their legal team first for the appropriate charges to be filed.
“We are also looking into the possibility of filing cases against the land owners even though they claimed that they have sold the land,” he said.
Senior Insp. Nefre Acaso, CPSC chief, explained the difficulty of intelligence gathering for the operation.
He said he got intelligence information last month and immediately sent operatives to the area for further investigation.
“We were about to raid the area few weeks ago and sent the information to all the concerned groups. But when I asked my personnel to check again, they reported that someone might have tipped off the miners since the equipment were not there anymore. So I revised the plan and waited further,” said Acaso.
He revealed that only a few people knew about the raid and did not even inform his men about the real nature of the operation. He just told his personnel to assemble at the junction of the road leading to the barangay and the highway.
“We did not inform nor coordinate with the barangay, the police station nearby and other agencies just to make sure that the information will not leak and tip-off the illegal miners,” Acaso stressed.
The CPSC chief said it was difficult getting into the area undetected because of the terrain and the lack of gear to conduct operation under the cover of darkness.
“We could hear the heavy equipment operating as we approached the area but it was so dark that we can’t almost see where we were going. Even though we caught them by surprise, in the commotion it was hard to see where everybody was going. Unfortunately, the Chinese financiers were able to escape but we have in our custody four of the workers in the mining site,” he said.
Rene Supangan, one of the residents whose family once owned the land across the Taligaman River, admitted that his mother sold a hectare of land to the Chinese for only P350,000.
“We did not hesitate to sell it then since it was not yielding that much copra,” he said.
Supangan said he does not work in the mining operation and declined to divulge more information about the mining site.
According to another resident who requested not to be named, the Chinese businessmen kept coming back to the area since it is a high grade mining site.
The resident said the operation must have netted 2,000 grams worth of gold, including some large nuggets.
After the operation, while the police and barangay workers were removing the equipment from the site, several residents immediately took some of the sand and started panning for gold.
The same area was raided last September 18 and two Chinese nationals were apprehended. But were able to get out on bail.