75 small-scale mine tunnels in SouthCot facing closure

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 8 Nov) – Some 75 small-scale mine tunnels in T’boli town in South Cotabato are facing possible closure after being found to have been operating outside a declared mining area.

Agnes Castanares, environment management specialist of the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), said Wednesday the mine tunnels have been operating illegally as they are situated outside the 21-hectare people’s small-scale mining area or Minahang Bayan in Barangay Kematu, T’boli.

She said the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) issued a cease and desist order last Oct. 26 to the owners of the concerned mine tunnels.

The order was signed by PMRB co-chairpersons South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Region 12 acting regional director Efren Carido.

“The order will be served to them (tunnel owners) anytime from now by the deputized enforcers of the PMRB,” Castanares said.

She said they are currently determining how many of the affected small-scale mining operators have active permits issued by the PEMO.

Those with active permits would be allowed to operate until the expiry dates but their tunnels would still be subjected to closure, Castanares said.

MGB-12 records showed that T’boli town’s gold rush area hosts a total of 159 small-scale mine tunnels.

Some 100 tunnels are situated in Barangay Kematu and 49 in the neighboring Barangay Desawo.

The agency noted that 34 tunnels are operating within the Minahang Bayan with active permits, 47 have no permits and three had been abandoned by their owners or operators.

It said 75 tunnels are located outside the Minahang Bayan area and could be subjected to Application for Product Sharing Agreement (APSA).

APSA is an “application for an agreement between a company and the government, under which the government grants to the company the exclusive right to conduct mining operations, such as smaller-scale exploration, development and utilization of mineral resources within the contract area, but title is reserved to the government.”

The Minahang Bayan was declared by the South Cotabato Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) in 1995 based on provisions of Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act.

But the area has a pending dispute with mining firm Tribal Mining Corporation (TMC) as it is located within the latter’s 84.98-hectare Mineral Production Sharing Agreement issued by MGB in November 1997.

TMC purchased and acquired late last year the rights over small-scale mine tunnels in portions of the gold rush area following an agreement with holders Maguan Clan Small-Scale Mining Association and the T’boli Minahang Bayan Multi-Purpose Cooperative. (MindaNews)