23 ball mills in Mt. Diwalwal to be demolished

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 June) – Twenty-three active ball mills in Mt. Diwalwal in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley might be demolished after their owners refused to be transferred to Barangay Mabatas.

Alberto B. Sipaco Jr., president of the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC), said in a briefing on Monday that only 210 out of 233 ball mills had signed up and agreed to be transferred to Mabatas area, which covers 60 hectares on the same mountain range with a capacity of 50 to 70 millions of tons of tailings.

The illegal operations, he said, cause mercury and cyanide pollution and siltation in the nearby Naboc River and farmlands downstream.

Sipaco said Mt. Diwalwal, known as the gold rush area, covers 729 hectares of the 8,100 Diwalwal Mineral Reservation, which was also declared as Environmentally Critical Area under Presidential Proclamation 297 of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002.

He said they would execute the July 2017 cease and desist order that had been stalled after miners and local government expressed their opposition to the takeover of PMDC, which he claimed is duly recognized to mine, to explore, and to enter into joint operating agreement with mining companies, to manufacture, to market and many other mandates.

Sipaco said Monkayo Mayor Ramil L. Gentugaya issued an order last March 28, 2017 for PMDC to stop any mining and exploration activities, citing Section 25 of the municipality’s Environmental Code, which prohibits mining explorations without a “presentation of proof of a valid permit to extract mineral and quarry resources from any concerned government authorities.”

The mayor’s order also covers all other mining areas under the control of PMDC, including those covered by joint operating agreements without the requisite mayor’s clearance.

But Sipaco added that the execution of the PMDC’s May 21, 2018 order came after the Department of Justice (DOJ) nullified the mayor’s order since it only cited a local ordinance and that the local government’s ordinance cannot supersede the authority of PMDC in managing national government assets such as Diwalwal.

Sipaco noted that 210 of the ball mill operators have manifested that they would transfer to the Mabatas area, and have even already started working for the transfer of their ball mills and carbon and pulp tanks.

A portion of the order reads: “All affected parties are enjoined to stop operations immediately upon receipt of this notice, and without delay dismantle their facilities for transfer to the Mabatas Relocation site. Any effort to subvert, disrupt or manipulate the [cease and desist order] implementation will be charged in court for illegal mining and tax evasion, and those who use extralegal means will face arrest.”

Sipaco said that the operations of the miners are causing contamination of poisonous substances containing mercury and cyanide, as they have failed to follow responsible mining practices.

“The major thrust of PMDC is to totally eradicate or eliminate the poison spilled out from the illegal operations of these small scale mining, ball mills and carbon and pulp plants, which use cyanide. Cyanide, aside from mercury, is a poisonous chemical,” he said, adding that those chemicals bring health risks to animals, humans, and plants.

He claimed that rice produced in Monkayo and Panabo have traces of mercury.

The Mabatas relocation, he pointed out, is just five to seven kilometers away from Diwalwal where the gold rush area lies.

Sipaco said he declared emergency in the area and vowed to develop Mabatas, the first step being constructing the structures for the establishment of a water system.

He said the construction of a water system encountered initial opposition from the Lumads as this would pass through their ancestral domain. A negotiation ensued, and the water system was finally completed.

Sipaco said access roads have also been completed. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)