Illegal mining remains unchecked in Surigao town

MALIMONO, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/15 April) – Many residents, the Church and at least some local officials of this town are openly against mining. Tarpaulins proclaiming the anti-mining sentiment hanged all over the place – in churches, barangay halls, streets and elsewhere.

The irony, however, is not lost on the locals, who said illegal mining has remained unchecked, and with it, siltation and its attendant effects on the environment.

Environment groups in the province blamed the problem on small-scale mining activities in three barangays here namely, Masgad, Cansayong and Bunsayan.

Albert Labrador, of the Surigao del Norte Non-Government Organization Coalition for Development Inc., said siltation has worsened along the shorelines of Masgad over the years.

Aside from being an eyesore that has ruined the area’s potentials for tourism, siltation also destroys marine ecosystems, Labrador said. He noted that waters in several creeks and rivers in the area have turned murky.

Reynaldo Betonio, 47, a residente of Purok 1, Masgad told MindaNews that the water in the river was so clear then.

“It’s potable water. We took our bath along the river, washed our cloths and got our drinking water there too. But gone are those days because of the mining activities,” Betonio said.

Former Malimono vice mayor Dulmar Raagas admitted that small scale miners have caused severe degradation of the ecosystems, particularly in Masgad which hosts several mining tunnels.

Raagas said marine sanctuaries being set up by fisher folk have also been threatened by siltation.

He said that aside from Masgad the waters in Cansayong, Bunyasan and Hanagdong have also become murky.

Incumbent Vice Mayor Rainero G. Caga earlier said several interventions made for small scale-miners operating in the three barangays have proved futile.

“We have initiated alternative livelihood for these miners to divert their activities from mining to farming but these miners are not interested,” he said.

Caga was a municipal councilor from 2010 to 2013, during which he was the chair of the committee on environment of the Sangguniang Bayan.

He said that at that time they passed a resolution seeking a halt to small-scale mining activities.

15malimonosilt2The Provincial Environment and Management Office, other environment agencies and Gov. Sol Matugas had issued cease-and-desist orders to no avail.

Raagas said the town has an existing ordinance against illegal mining but what’s lacking is implementation.

“Our job is to legislate ordinances and it’s up to the local executive to implement it or not,” said Raagas, who is now the president of Caraga Chamber of Mines.

Caga said there are at least 40 active tunnels in Masgad alone and most miners are using the “flushing” method to obtain gold.

He said there are several old and abandoned tunnels which had been utilized since the early 1980’s.

He recalled that several miners died when some tunnels collapsed in the past, but this did not deter the others from continuing with their activity.

He said most of the miners are not from the town but from other provinces as far as Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur.

Masgad barangay chair Danilo R. Monte De Ramos said it would be impossible to stop mining in his village since 80 percent of the people depend on it.

Monte De Ramos did not categorically answer how to stop the siltation problem. He, however, said that if the government would approve their application for People’s Small Scale Mining Area or Minahan Ng Bayan, it might address the problem because mining activities would be regulated.

Monte De Ramos refused to say how many tunnels are operating in his village but admitted that he owned at least four.

He said miners are not using toxic chemicals.

But “James” (not his real name) said they are using mercury and other toxic substances. “Mercury is cost-efficient. You can reuse it and the recovery of gold is better than the rest of chemicals.”

Noli Arreza, acting regional director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 13 said the local government has the power to stop illegal mining.

Arreza admitted to MindaNews on Monday that mining activities in this town have affected the environment.

He also affirmed Monte De Ramos’ statement that they have received a Minahang Bayan application from his group and it was still under review.

Late last year, Arreza requested all local government units in Caraga to help promote cyanide processing method rather than mercury processing method for small-scale mining operations.

Asked for comment, Nookie Calunsag, campaign officer of Green Mindanao Association Inc., said it was high time that government acted to stop the pollution wrought by illegal mining activities. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)