‘Pastor’ arrested over open pit mine in Agusan Sur, ‘had no permit to extract gold’
SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur – The provincial government moved to stop an open pit mining operation in a remote area of Sibagat town after officials found out that the gold mining has destroyed some 20 hectares of farmlands and has been going on despite the lack of necessary permits.
Governor Adolph Edward Plaza said Tuesday that the man behind the illegal gold mining activity in Barangay Tabon-Tabon, identified as Romelito Palantang, and 20 of his workers were arrested on Friday and several pieces of heavy equipment and mining-related facilities had been seized.
Plaza said Palantang, a church pastor, was only holding a sand and gravel quarrying permit from the provincial government and had no authority to extract gold.
He said investigators have started digging deeper to determine if there were Chinese financiers behind Palantang’s activity.
Local authorities said some residents had told the raiding team that Chinese-looking men had frequented the area and were believed to have brought in the heavy equipment.
Ricardo Caldeo, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said the massive mining activity by Palantang and his men for three months has turned the once coconut farm into a crater with a radius of 50 meters and depth of 20 meters.
Caldeo said a smaller pit was also discovered but this appeared to have been used as an exploration pit only.
He said Plaza also wanted Barangay (village) Tabon-Tabon officials investigated for not checking the mining activity in the village even if they appeared to have knowledge of it.
He said the municipal environment and natural resources office in Sibagat would also be asked to explain why it failed to monitor and stop the illegal mining activity.
Sibagat Mayor Thelma Lamanilao said she had questioned Palantang a few months back after learning he was using so many heavy equipment when he was only allowed to use one for his sand and gravel quarrying.
Lamanilao also said she suspected that the mining facilities being used by Palantang had been slipped into the village through Barangay Taligaman in Butuan City, which is close to Sibagat. SFM
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