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Unabated illegal gold mining in Zamboanga del Sur continues

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The unabated illegal mining of gold continues in the town of Bayog in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga del  Sur.
And the smuggling of weapons and chemicals used in the manufacture of improvised explosives, and cyanide and mercury by alleged financiers of the illegal mine trade has become more rampant due to the absence of regular military and police patrols in the town’s Balabag mountain.
Just this year, communist rebels have seized army officers travelling in a truck in Bayog and freed them later after confiscating their weapons and burning their vehicle.

Balabag is where thousands of workers, including child laborers many from other towns and provinces, operate without fear. The destruction of the mountain and the hazards of unsafe use of cyanide and mercury added to the long woes of residents in the town who are dependent on fishing and agriculture as their source of livelihood.

Illegal miners have blasted the mountain to make tunnels where workers gather rocks and deliver or sell them to rod mill operators who pay them P20 per bag. Tens of dozens of rod mills are mostly built under wooden houses of illegal miners where they are processed using cyanide, mercury and nitric acid to extract the gold from crushed rocks.

The whole of Balabag is a danger zone because it is prone to landslides and rock falls, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. But despite repeated warnings for illegal miners to abandon their trade for safety reasons, financiers have widened their operations, employing more workers recruited from as far as Davao province and nearby areas.

There were also reports that some municipal officials are allegedly involved or financing the illegal mining activities in Balabag. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ordered an investigation into these reports, according to Leo Santillan, a spokesmanfor the Zamboanga del Sur provincial government.

“Illegal mining activities in Balabag are a big concern not only to human health, but the environment as well. As a matter of fact, there is already a resolution from the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Board to investigate municipal officials reportedly engaged in illegal mining as per order of the DILG. The situation in Balabag is alarming,” Santillan said.

At least six villages around Balabag, including Depore which has political jurisdiction over the mountainous area, have already passed separate resolution urging the local government to put a stop to the rampant illegal mining there due to the health hazards and dangers posed by tunnels and landslides.
Depore village council man Ernesto Mancao said their water sources are polluted due to the hazardous and toxic chemicals illegal miners used in Balabag.

“Look at our streams, the water is now yellowish and that is because of the chemicals used by these illegal miners. We have been telling the government to put a stop to these illegal activities,” Mancao said.

He said the illegal mining activities brought deaths and miseries to a lot of families because of the unsafe mining practice in Balabag.
“How many more lives must perish before we can act and totally put a stop to illegal mining? I am appealing to you our beloved President Noynoy Aquino to hear us and help us put a stop to these activities in Balabag for the sake of our children and their future,” he said.

by: Al Jacinto/Mindanao Examiner




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