Illegal mining continues in South Cotabato – environment exec
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippines — Illegal gold mining operations still persist in the mineral-rich towns of South Cotabato province despite efforts to curb these, officials here said.
Siegfried Flaviano, Provincial Environmental Management Office (Pemo) chief, said small-scale miners in the towns of Tampakan and T’boli continued to defy orders to stop their illegal activities.
Tampakan hosts the largest undeveloped copper-gold reserve in Southeast Asia under contract to Sagittarius Mines Inc. The firm has yet to go into commercial production, hampered by the open-pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government since 2010.
T’boli, on the other hand, is rich in gold and silver deposits. A “minahang bayan,” or people’s mining site has been established by the provincial government to accommodate small-scale miners employing tunnel mining but even this has failed to stop illegal operations.
“Illegal mining operations in Tampakan and T’boli remain although not as rampant compared to several years ago,” Flaviano told the Inquirer.
Illegal miners use the destructive “banlas,” or sluice mining method. It is done by pouring a large amount of water onto a mountain surface to loosen rocks containing gold and then panning them using mercury.
Although mercury is a naturally occurring element, it is highly toxic to humans, animals and the environment, if not handled properly. Prolonged exposure to mercury by inhalation damages the nervous, digestive and immune systems.
In mines, mercury is used to recover minute pieces of gold that are mixed in soil and sediments. Mercury and gold settle and combine together to form an amalgam. Gold is then extracted by vaporizing the mercury.
According to Flaviano, illegal miners have been using several mountain routes in the two towns to avoid detection. Sometimes they transport the ores under cover of darkness, he said.
South Cotabato’s vast mountains, he said, are “highly mineralized.”
The Pemo has deputized the military, police, local environment workers and village officials to help curb illegal mining operations in the area.
Tampakan Mayor Leonardo Escobillo said he had ordered the inspection of mountain villages where illegal miners operate. He said a team had been tasked to confiscate equipment used in illegal mining operations.
Escobillo opposed the establishment of detachments in areas where illegal mining operates as this could make the government personnel manning these “susceptible to bribery” or could tempt them to engage in illegal mining themselves.
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