MT. DIWATA, Monkayo — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) launched its three-day “Lihok Alang sa Naboc” program to implement a closure order to the 1,797 ball mill and the batch-type Carbon-in-Pulp (CIP) tank operators in Barangay Mt. Diwata (popularly known as Diwalwal) in Monkayo, Compostela Valley starting on Saturday.
DENR-11 Regional Executive Director Ruth Tawantawan said it is high-time that gold processing plants in Diwalwal should transfer to Mine Processing Zone in Mabatas, Monkayo.
“(That is) after 33 years of no permit and no tax. We gave them enough time,” she said in an interview on Saturday.
The operators were given until March 15 to dismantle and transfer their plants to the Mabatas zone.
Tawantawan said the government needs to rehabilitate the Naboc River from toxic contamination.
Based on studies by the DENR-Environmental Management Board (EMB), the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB), the United Nations Industrial and Development Organization (UNIDO), and other organizations, the Naboc River has high concentration of mercury. The river is also heavily silted due to soil erosion.
Despite intervention by the DENR, the National Task Force Diwalwal and the local government units, the river is still grossly being contaminated with mercury and cyanide from mining operations.
“Our objective here is to transfer the source of the pollutants and confine within the tailings pond area,” she said.
Tawantawan said during the first phase of the rehabilitation, the transfer of informal settlers and relocation of ball mills and other processing plants will be prioritized.
If the ball mill and CIP plants continue to operate, Tawantawan said they will slap operators with P200,000 penalty per day of operation.
About 16 teams of 14 members each coming from 11 city and five provincial DENR offices have been deployed to implement the closure order.
A monitoring team will also be stationed in Mt. Diwata to ensure that no operation will take place.
The transfer of over a hundred households in three puroks (villages) — 15, 16 and 17 — was prioritized because of tension cracks discovered by the MGB.
The fresh crack is about six meters which makes the residents in the three areas more vulnerable to landslide.
Monkayo Mayor Ramil Gentugaya said there is no other way but for everybody to transfer to the Mabatas.
He expressed concern that if operators will continue to defy the order, President Rodrigo Duterte might choose to shut down all tunnels and processing plants just like in Boracay.
Gentugaya, in an interview, said he and the provincial government are also doing their share in addressing concerns of operators, which include the improvement of the road to Mabatas, provision of transportation for the transfer of equipment, and assurance of housing for affected households.
Gentugaya said it is not only the miners and residents of Mt. Diwata that are at risk, but also farmers downstream who source water for irrigation of the rice fields in Barangays Tubo-tubo, Naboc and Mangayon in Compostela.
The three barangays are the highest rice producers in Compostela Valley.
The mayor voiced concern that rice production has decreased over the years from 100 sacks per hectare to 30-60 sacks per hectare.
The same sentiment was also expressed by Mt. Diwata barangay captain Pedro Samillano.
He, however, said the government should also ensure assistance to those who will be affected.
In fact, he said, the population of Mt. Diwata has decreased from 42,000 at the height of small-scale mining operations in the 1980’s to the current 10,400.
Samillano said the tunnels are getting deeper and the “abanteros” lack the necessary equipment, such as oxygen, to go deeper.
The barangay captain said there are 1,797 ball mill plants, 31 CIP, and 42 mine tunnels in Mt. Diwata.
Samillano said 70 percent of the 10,400 total population of Mt. Diwata rely on mining.
The transfer of the batch-type mini CIP and ball/rod mills operated by the small-scale miners to the Mineral Processing Zone at Mabatas area had been recommended by the MGB to the Program Monitoring and Coordinating Center (PMCC) in early 2000 because of high mercury contamination levels in Naboc River.
PMCC is chaired by the DENR Regional Executive Director, the barangay captain of Mt. Diwata and the PMDC.
The Mabatas processing zone has tailings containment facility to avoid and eliminate the direct discharging or throwing of tails/waste from the plants to the waterways; and, as the only lasting and long-term solution to avoid polluting the Naboc River.
The Mabatas dam, which was established sometime in 2003, was never used for the gold processing by the small-scale miners.
Gold mining sites are found in almost all of the province’s 11 municipalities.
The major mining sites are in Mt. Diwalwal (Mt. Diwata) of Monkayo, the Masara district in Maco, the Boringot-Diyat-Kingking district of Pantukan, the Bukal-Mainit site of Nabunturan, and Bango of Compostela.