MGB-12 cracks down on illegal mining in SMI areas

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 October) — The Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region 12 has stepped up its crackdown against the continuing illegal small-scale mining activities in parts of Tampakan town in South Cotabato.

Contancio Paye Jr., MGB Region 12 director, said they have linked up with the provincial government of South Cotabato in a bid to stop the “clandestine guerrilla-type” mining operations in three upland barangays in the area.

He said they initially issued a joint cease-and-desist order against all small-scale mining operations in Barangays Danlag, Pula Bato and Tablu, which are all covered by the proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).

“We deputized the chairs of the three barangays, the mayor of Tampakan and the provincial police director of South Cotabato to implement the order,” he said in a statement.

Citing their investigation, Paye said the illegal small-scale activities in Tampakan surged after SMI suspended its mining explorations last year.

The company’s move came after it scaled down its operations in August 2013 due to the impasse over the open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government and delays in national government permitting processes.

SMI, which became a wholly-owned Filipino company last month with the buyout of the remaining foreign share by the Alcantara Group’s Alsons Prime Investment Corporation, holds a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement or FTAA with the national government over the mining area.

Discovered in 1992, the US$5.9-billion Tampakan project is a 2.9 billion metric ton deposit, containing 15 million tons of copper and 18 million ounces of gold at a 0.2 percent cut-off grade.

Paye said the unregulated mining operations have already affected the water quality of the Taplan River, which traverses the three barangays.

“The river’s water has already turned murky and farmers in the downstream have been complaining about this,” he said.

The provincial government and MGB-12 earlier filed criminal charges against several individuals who were allegedly behind the illegal mining activities, especially the highly-destructive “banlas” or hydraulic sluice mining.

“Banlas” mining 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 several years ago, has been thriving these past years in small-scale mining areas in Tampakan. (MindaNews)