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Sarangani villagers alarmed by unchecked illegal mining

Local residents of Sarangani, alarmed by the continued illegal mining operations in Maitum town, have called on the provincial government to take necessary measures to avoid possible massive environmental destruction in the area.

In a letter signed by tri-people leaders addressed to Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez, the group informed the governor that the illegal mining operation in the area does not only affect the environment but has taken a toll as well on elementary pupils who had reportedly stopped from schooling and opted to engage in mining to eke out a living.

"We think the governor should be alarmed now in the wake of reports that the illegal mining operation affected 50% of our elementary pupils who quit from schooling and worked as ore diggers in the mining site," the group said.

Fearing of a possible environmental destruction, the group said authorities should go after those people reportedly involved in illegal mining activities in the area.

"It is almost a year now that these illegal activities have been discovered but apparently the authorities are doing nothing," said Ms. Elizabeth Palma Gil, an information officer of Maitum, who is one among the signatories.

However, Insp. Jeofrey Sanchez, the Maitum police chief, said two months after these illegal activities were exposed last May 2010, the local and provincial authorities upon the instruction of Gov. Dominguez organized joint police and military personnel backed by environment officials who raided the mining site and apprehended some 20 miners some of whom were minors.

The arrested persons have been charged and detained for violating environmental laws and operating without a mining permit.

However, in October last year the suspected illegal miners were temporarily freed by the court after lawyer Bic-Bic Garcia bailed them out.

The statement further called the attention of the governor following reports that rampant cutting of logs near the mining site remained unchecked.

A local environment officer suggested the establishment of a police and military checkpoint to check and monitor the illegal mining activities in the area.

The local peace and order council had already passed a resolution for the establishment of a checkpoint in the area.

"We could hardly monitor the activities of these illegal miners and their cohorts because we don't have police and military checkpoint in the area," said an environment officer who asked not to be identified.

He also said they can hardly conduct operation in the area "dahil paakyat pa lang kami sa bundok natutunugan na kami ng mga minero."

Sanchez claimed they do not have enough funds to conduct operation against illegal mining, but said "we are just waiting for the instructions of our local executives to implement the raid."

Sources said that a group of businessmen outside the province as well as local and barangay officials in the area are reportedly behind the operation of the illegal mining.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez
Gov. Migs Dominguez (Photo by Afren de Guzman)
Acting on the complaint of the group, Dominguez who just arrived from abroad, immediately ordered the establishment of an Army detachment in the area together with the provincial police to enforce joint stoppage order against mining operations.

"That's our primary move right now as far as illegal mining operation in Maitum is concerned," Dominguez said.

He stressed that the long term solution to the problem is the establishment of a provincial mineral resources board composed of a multi-sectoral body that will regulate mining operations in the province.

Dominguez through this regulating body all interested parties who wish to engage in any mining activities within the province will be required to submit their intent and requirements to agency.

"It they pass the qualifications and standards set by the board then they will be given a mining permit to operate after payment of fees," Dominguez said, adding that local and provincial government could generate additional revenues from the mining operations.

When asked if he had a data about the alleged huge deposits of gold in the area, the governor replied "that since 1990s many groups and individuals had started digging mine tunnels in the area which had resulted to misunderstanding with some local officials."

"Maybe the present high price of gold in the market had prompted these miners to venture in the area," the governor said.

Dominguez said the establishment of the provincial mining board could also lessen the occurrence of violence and atrocities within the mining site, like what had happened in Mt. Diwalwal gold rush area.

"Ito ang pinaghahandaan natin na kung saka-sakaling matutuloy na ang mining operation sa area..kasi napakahalaga na walang patayang mangyayari sa lugar dahil sa bangayan ng mga minero," Dominguez stressed.

With regards to the affected elementary pupils, Dominguez said the parents of the children should be blamed for allowing their kids to work in the mining site.

"Obligasyon rin ng mga magulang ang pagpapaaral sa kanilang mga anak…hindi lang ito trabaho ng gobyerno," the governor pointed out.

He said that that he had not yet received actual report from the Department of Education about the dropping out of elementary pupils in schools "but the great possibility of it could have been driven by poverty."

"Palagay ko posibleng tumitigil na sa pag-aaral ang mga bata dahil talaga sa kahirapan nila sa bundok," the governor explained.

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