Mines bureau probes drying up of spring in Agusan
ROSARIO, Agusan del Sur, Philippines – Officials here said about 16 illegal small-scale gold mining tunnels reportedly operated by a top local official of this gold-rich town could be to blame for the drying up of natural spring that caused a water crisis to thousands of households.
The mining tunnels are just about 400 meters below the ridge where P47-million World Bank-funded water system development project of Maputi Spring is located, according to Nemesio Taganahan, chief of the local waterworks system.
Affected residents were puzzled when Maputi Spring, which supplied practically the entire town with drinking water, dried up a day after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook Bohol and other parts of the Visayas as well as Mindanao, killing up to 180 people on October 15.
Even local officials were at a loss as to why the spring dried up so suddenly when it was flowing abundantly hours before the tremor struck.
Taganahan admitted the indiscriminate cutting of trees by miners inside the watershed of Maputi Spring have been a major contributing factor in the decline of water supply.
He said tunnel operators would always rely on cutting trees near the spring to be used as timber stands in the mining portals.
Concerned residents disclosed most of the mining tunnels near Maputi Spring have been allegedly operated or financed by Mayor Jose Cuyos that nobody would have dared to initiate a call to stop it. Municipal officials have discussed on the need to padlock the tunnels to protect the spring but only ended up only in talks and papers.
Father Allen Balasabas, parish priest of Catholic church in Rosario, said that many churchgoers have confided to him that most of the tunnels were operated by Cuyos.
“We have a pastoral council member who said that he is 99 percent sure that those tunnels are operated by the mayor,” he disclosed.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried several times to get a reaction from Cuyos but he declined to grant an interview.
Cuyos, who used to drive a passenger motorcycle called “habal-habal” for a living, entered politics and became a mayor after a mining tunnel that ran through a patch of land he owned struck large deposits of high grade gold, making him a multi-millionaire and turning him into a popular figure in his town.
Cuyos’ mining company, the JTC Mining Corporation, has expanded in many parts of gold rush areas in Rosario, including the mining tunnels near Maputi Spring. In 2012, the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office reported that large volumes of red lauan logs were seized by government operatives in the area.
As part of their corporate social responsibility, Philsaga Mining Corporation, a mining company holding a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement issued by Mines and Geosciences Bureau, started reforesting the watershed area but the local government did not keep up the reforestation project or take steps to protect the planted trees, even allowing more gold mining tunnels to be dug.
Engr. Ferdinand Cortez, resident manager of Philsaga Mining Corp., said the reforestation project was done with village officials in the Sta. Cruz village and was part of the company’s “Adopt-A-Mining-Forest Program,” since the area was near the perimeter of the company’s MPSA claims.
The municipal government has asked the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to investigate the drying up of Maputi Spring and explain the phenomenon to the townsfolk.
Vice Mayor Julie Chua said he suspected that the earthquake triggered major movements in the earth’s plates underneath this town, which in turn blocked the flow of water from the underground aquifer.
Chua said local officials would like to know if water would flow again on its own of it something could be done to bring the spring back to life. Otherwise, the multimillion-peso water system being installed would be a total loss.
But MGB geologists who came to Rosario a day after the story came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer have different initial findings after visiting Maputi Spring.
According to Taganahan, the MGB experts told the local inspecting team that the prolonged drought that lasted for more than two months might have caused the spring water to dry up.
He said based on an initial assessment by MGB men, the spring relied more on the precipitation from the forest in the area that the absence of rains for a long time could have dried up the water source.
“The forest in the ridge serves as a natural reservoir,” Taganahan said, adding that small ponds around the top of the ridge have also dried up as a result of the long dry spell.
MGB Caraga Regional Director Noli Arreza, however, said he was still waiting for the final report of his staff who went to the area.
He said the findings on the drying up of the Maputi Spring would be complemented by the geohazard assessment of MGB of many areas in Agusan del sur.
Arreza has recommended to local officials in Rosario to formally proclaim through a municipal ordinance the watershed areas of Maputi Spring as a protected area to prevent the area from intrusion by mining tunnel operators.
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