Miners buried in “banned” mine

MATI CITY, Southern Philippines – A landslide in the gold-rich area between this city and Tarragona, in Davao Oriental, has trapped a yet-to-be-determined number of miners and renewed concerns on safety and risk management in small-scale mining operations.

Herminia Miones, chieftain of the Mandaya tribe in Don Salvador Lopez, said over 7000 other miners operate in Sitio Bangol, Barangay Tubaon where the landslide, the second in two months, was reported last Thursday night (Aug. 30).

Reports place the number of those trapped from between one to 50. Miones said at least two bunkhouses, reportedly owned by a certain Mancao, were also destroyed.

The Office of the Civil Defense has yet to confirm the incident, though. Reports quoting Mati Mayor Michelle Rabat already speak of a fatality.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region 11 issued a cease-and-desist order against mining in the area as early as last June 19. But talk of miners striking gold subsequently sent a horde of small-scale miners up the site anyway.

Moreover, local leaders and other “known personalities” in the small-scale mining sector are financing digs, Mati City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Eddie Cobacha told members of Mati City’s Peace and Order Council during a recent meeting.

“We met (Don Salvador Lopez) barangay captain Miones and he gave us information about the recent situation where big mining owners and their groups are now in the area like Tata Sala, Chong Uy, Golden Palace of Tagum City and owners from Zamboanga, Calapagan and Maragusan,” Cobacha said.

“Furthermore, we were also informed that there is one bulldozer working in the roads and was allegedly operated by the incumbent Mayor of Cateel (Camilo Nuñez)….there were 5 Saddam trucks full with ore allegedly owned by the Mayor of Cateel transporting the said mineral to be processed in Barangay Marayag, Lupon,” added the Cenro official.

Cobacha said there are about 100 tunnels and around three to five thousand people in the area as of early last July. Most of the small-scale miners in the area came from Maragusan, Pantukan in Compostela Valley, and Calapagan in Lupon.

Rabat has ordered a fact-finding investigation and, last July 5, formed a task force composed of officials from the city environment office, the office of the city engineer, city health, city planning, and the city disaster risk reduction management office to conduct it.

Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon, for her part, ordered a ban on small-scale mining in the area, though critics say it was more because the site of the gold diggings belongs within the mining tenement of large firm, Oro-East Mining Co.

Nevertheless, had it been heeded, there would have been no small-scale mining in the area by July 26.

Indigenous Peoples (IP) organizations in the area also appealed the ban, saying it is within their ancestral domain claim and not within the purview of the provincial government.

The lumads, led by Mati City IP Representative Rogelio Lemente, Lupon IP Representative Robert Simbajon, and Joana Mabini, chairman of the Mati City Tribal Council, also claimed that the period the governor gave to have them leave the site was not enough.

The lumad leaders reasoned that small-scale mining activity has brought economic improvement to the lives of tribesmen in the area.

“But much to our dismay, the opportunity was abruptly stopped leaving a lot of these lowly people tied up in debt with dreams and hope shattered,” they said. (Ben O. Tesiorna for Pecojon.PH/knr)