200 illegal mine tunnels closed

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Lawmen closed at least 200 tunnels dug up for illegal mining in the mountains of gold-rich Barangay (village) Runruno in Nueva Vizcaya, according to the National Bureau of Investigation.

Some of the tunnels are barely a meter apart.

Head agent Sixto Comia of the NBI Environment and Wildlife Protection and Investigation Division said 29 ball mills, also used for illegal mining, were destroyed in yesterday’s operation.

The ball mills, which cost from P250,000 to P300,000, were used to separate gold from ore, Comia said.

The NBI operation in Barangay Runruno, which the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said is rich in gold, was prompted by a complaint filed by FCF Minerals Corp., an Australian company, he said.

Comia said FCF has a mining permit granted to it in 2005 by the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

No one was hurt in the operation, which was joined by policemen and soldiers.

“We are satisfied with the results of the operation,” said Comia. “There was very little resistance.”

But according to Linda Lin, who owns four small-scale mining structures in Runruno and was emotional over the demolition, the NBI operation was illegal.

“We have not seen any piece of document that orders us to vacate and remove our structures,” Lin said.

Lin said small-scale miners in the area could not abandon their projects and yield the land to FCF because they had been paying taxes for the land.

Lester Curesma, who also owns a small-scale mining structure in Runruno, said he was willing to accept money from FCF to abandon his area in the mountains.

Craig Watkins, FCF country manager, in an interview in his office, told reporters that the company, which was granted mining rights over 3,091 hectares of land in Runruno, would use only 10 percent of the land.

The FCF contract with the government is good for 25 years. Watkins said the company intended to seek a 25-year extension once it expires.

“Only about 30 ha will be mined and 420 ha are allotted for the processing plant, offices and barracks for FCF employees,” he said.

Watkins expressed confidence that FCF can start commercial production in its $149-million Runruno gold-molybdenum project by the end of 2014.

He said his company would bring jobs and development to the village.

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