South Cotabato shuts down illegal gold tunnels in T’boli town

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 30 December) — The provincial government of South Cotabato has shut down at least eight mine tunnels at a gold rush site in Tboli town for illegal operations.

Agnes Castanares, environment management specialist of the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), said Monday the move was based on an order from the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB).

She said the tunnels were all located within the declared “Minahang Bayan” or people’s small-scale mining site in Barangay Desawo.

“The tunnels were operating without licenses, and the ores were even processed at the site,” she said in a statement.

The closure of the illegal mine tunnels was led by personnel from the PEMO’s mine and geosciences division, Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Region 12 and the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion.

They were assisted by members of the Desawo Integrated Small-Scale Mining Association Inc. (DISSMAI).

Castanares, who led the PEMO team, said the PMRB had allowed at least 30 mine tunnels owned by members of DISSMAI to operate in the area, and were assisted to become legal operators.

She said the eight tunnels continued to operate illegally despite the issuance of several notices from the PMRB.

The board, which is chaired by MGB-12, awarded a small-scale mining contract last October 17 to DISSMAI, a mining association mostly composed of T’boli tribal residents.

The mining contract covers around 20 hectares of the Minahang Bayan site in Barangay Desawo.

Castanares said that South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. earlier ordered the intensified regulation of small-scale mining operations and a crackdown on all illegal mining activities in Tboli and other parts of the province.

She said the move was aimed to ensure the implementation of mining regulations and the proper collection of mining-related levies.

As of November, the provincial government already generated at least Php36 million from quarry and mining taxes, surpassing last year’s collection for the same period by about Php5 million.