Foreigners behind Libona illegal gold mining; use cyanide, mercury – BENRO chief

MALAYBALAY CITY – (Bukidnon News Dispatch/15 Sept.) Operators of small scale gold mining in at least 58 hectares in Sitio Manlahuyan, Gango, Libona, Bukidnon are financed by foreigners, are illegal, and are using mercury and cyanide , Samuel Cadavos, chief of the Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Office (BENRO) said in his report to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, where he brought attention to a complex “social, technical environmental, and political” problem it has become. “I ask your help to stop this problem,” he said as he reported Wednesday that he has ordered the mines in the area closed several times before but it recurred. He noted that now the operators, who are armed, are resisting.

Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. called him to report on the investigations, Cadavos, who was on study leave, said.

Two groups of operators run the gold mines in the area, the Bukidnon Integrated Small-Scale Miners Association (BISSMA) and the Bukidnon United Small Scale Miners Association (BUSMA) involving at least 2,000 miners. But none of them obtained a valid small-scale mining permit at the provincial government, Cadavos said.

The operations, he added, included “prospecting, exploration, actual extraction of gold ore from tunnel operations, and processing and recovery of gold using mercury and cyanide.

He said when they investigated, the latest on August 23, they found ball mills, rod mills, and a carbon in-pulp plant used in processing and recovering gold, which they used aside from the common tailings pond constructed by the province.

The BENRO chief cited three Chinese nationals allegedly involved in illegal “mineral trading operations”, namely “Harrison Chen of a Cagayan de Oro-based firm Ore Group International Mining Corporation”; “Ke Liang We” of Wilson Minerals Corporation; and “a Chinese investor named Mr. Bill Ho.”

Cadavos quoted Chen as saying the group had released P15 million to a certain “Alvin Shi” of WHK, who has denied they were in for gold.

Shi, Cadavos quoted in his report, said they will extract and remove mine tailings from the dam in cooperation with the two mining operators. The report cited that they were allowed to enter into the area allegedly with the consent of LGU Libona, based on a memorandum of agreement the local government and WHK Manufacturing Corporation.
                              
Investigators found built adjacent to the tailings pond in the site were structures for mineral processing used by WHK Manufacturing and Trading Corporation

Iinvestigators found the firm to have operated without any processing permit. They also found sacks of extracted gold ore in the processing site.

In 1986, small-scale miners began to operate in the area, previously proposed for “minahan ng bayan.” Cadavos said the provincial government through the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) during Zubiri’s administration.

“However, until this time there was no official communication received from the DENR regarding status of their application.”

Cadavos noted the problem why a small-scale mining permit cannot be issued.

He said the same area is also inside the 2,000-hectare Industrial Forest Management Agreement the DENR awarded to the Pelaez family.

“Hence there is conflict in terms of land use, conflict between the intention of industrial plantation and mining operation over the same piece of land,” Cadavos added.

Benro, he added, has advised the firm to stop and secure requirements prior to any mining operation.

The Mines and Geo sciences Bureau of the DENR-10 issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against illegal mining and illegal mineral processing in the area as of August 3, 2011, according to a copy of the CDO obtained by this reporter. Alfredo Relampagos, MGB regional director, who signed the order, also warned about the common tailings pond in the area.

He said it is “very full” resulting to overspill of silted water, based on an MGB team’s report ofd investigation in July. He cited that silted water spilt to the nearby Bigaan River. He said the BENRO should encourage and supervise the plan to desilt and rehabilitate the tailings pond to avoid “possible disaster

“A crack was observed at the base of Dike 2. BENRO as well as all the CIP (carbon in-pulp plant) operators should repair immediately the crack to prevent the dike’s possible collapse.

Relampagos wrote to Cadavos on Aug. 12 that they found spillage of effluents containing mercury and cyanide and sediments from the pond resulting in a “very high total suspended solids” — an increase in the concentration of mercury. .” Cadavos described the situation in his Sept. 14 report to the SP as “increase on mercury contamination.”

He called on a multi-partite stakeholders dialogue to address the “multi-faceted problem.”

Cadavos has ruled out recommending closure of the mines because “it would mean loss of livelihood.”

“We are looking at having it declared as a “minahan ng bayan” so we can regulate it,” he added.

Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri led provincial board members to an on-site visit Thursday to meet with local government officials, mine operators, and the alleged foreign investors. (Walter I. Balane)

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