Hordes of green-uniformed national and local mining officers, backed by soldiers, finally enforced a long-ignored government regulation to transfer mercury and cyanide-laden processing of gold away from active mining sites and underneath residential houses to the lone government-designated processing area here.
In Purok Nang here, they knocked on stores and houses to serve the cease-and-desist order and showed reporters the ball mills and the carbon-in-pulp (CIP) processing machines underneath these establishments and simple residential house structures.
They explained to gold-ore processors that enforcement of the order, and the relocation of their operations to Purok Mabatas in Barangay Ulip, some 5 kilometers down the slope, were to begin on that day, March 15, and onward until Sunday.
‘By then, we would slap a fine of P200,000 for every day that they defy this order,’ said Environment Assistant Secretary Ruth M.
Tawantawan, the designated field operations chief for Eastern Mindanao.
The relocation of the processing plant was the prelude to a massive cleanup of the mercury contamination of the Diwalwal’s Naboc River and its surrounding rice fields, and would be Mindanao’s equivalent to the cleanup of Boracay in the
Visayas, and the Manila Bay in the National Capital Region.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the dredging and cleanup of the Naboc River was crucial as it drains into the Agusan River, the country’s third largest river basin, which drains into an estimated 12,000 square kilometer area, including the Agusan Marsh, a wildlife sanctuary.
Edgardo Bayawa, one of those served with the cease-and-desist order, pleaded with serving officers from the local Mines and GeoSciences Bureau and the Environmental Management Bureau, to allow him 10 more days at most to haul the unprocessed gold lying idle at the small tailings pond and to process the rocks that must be crushed and refined at the ball mills.
‘It would take one day to crush and pulverize one sack of these rocks,’ he said.
The serving officers were divided though, with one assuring him that he could negotiate it with the higher officials.
One other small processor would rather stop his processing activities. ‘It is difficult to get gold from the ores. These few years, a gram of gold could be extracted from three to four sacks of rock ores. That’s how it is getting to be scarce.’
A company sized unit of Army soldiers was tapped to secure the residential and mining site, and to provide security to the enforcement teams headed by 11 community environment and natural resources officers (Cenros) and five Penros.
They would serve the order on the more than 300 operators of 1,797 ball mills and 31 CIPs.
As of the first day of the serving of the cease-and-desist order, the only grumbling heard was the further pleading from operators to give them a little more time to prepare and haul the remaining sacked ores and gold dusts.
‘The mining operators have no other recourse but to comply,’ Barangay Captain Pedro Samillano said.
Today, he added, ‘the miners called me up or sent text messages telling me that the DENR has arrived in the area. They asked me what to do.’
‘Of course, I told them to comply,’ he said.
Relocating the processing activities to Mabatas began a few years immediately after the government took over the small scale mining operation of the 729-hectare Diwalwal mines site in 2002. The National Task Force Diwalwal soon subdivided the scattered and violence-wracked control of the tunnels into cooperatives. Malacañang also established offices here of its corporate arm on mining, the Philippine Mining Development Corp. and the DENR’s corporate arm, Natural Resources Development Corp.
A relocation was identified at an area covering 60 hectares in Mabatas, intended to remove the families from shanties perched atop the slopes with tension cracks developing underneath, but mainly to bring the processing mills away from the rivulets and streams that feed into the Naboc River, a tributary of the Agusan River.
The mercury contamination in the 1990s of the Naboc River, which eventually found significant traces into the Davao Gulf, forced the government to clamp down on the wanton use of mercury and cyanide but to no avail, as suspicion of payoffs to high-ranking government, police and Army officials hounded the enforcement.
Miners and barangay officials also argued that the government has not constructed the necessary structure of a tailings dam, and basic infrastructure for civilian occupancy was not seen. Last year, lawyer Alberto Sipaco, former regional director of the Commission on Human Rights and currently designated president of the PMDC, announced government’s warning to miners to transfer them with finality to Mabatas.
Tawantawan said the miners were given the final grace period since October 2019 till March. She said in the previous meetings leading to the enforcement over the weekend, ‘we made it clear that we now have to enforce it.’
This article provided by NewsEdge.