The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) 7 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has issued a cease and desist order (CDO) over an illegal gold mining and processing operations in Barangay San Franscisco, Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental.

“We received information from Santa Catalina Mayor Nathaniel Electona that he’s going to enforce the closure order this Thursday (August 21) to at least 12 ball or rod mills used in recovering the gold materials,” said MGB 7 Regional Director Loreto B. Alburo.

In a follow-up letter dated August 1 by Alburo to Electona after two separate letters last April 21 and May 2, it said “immediate stoppage of the gold mining and processing operations in Barangay San Franscisco should be carried out as the activity poses danger to human lives”.

“We have given them enough time to dismantle their facilities and to stop their illegal operations until such time they are going to secure the necessary permits from the concerned government agencies,” Alburo added.

“It is important to implement the closure order as the activity continues to be a threat to human lives particularly the health and safety of the workers are compromised, “said DENR 7 Regional Executive Director Dr. Isabelo R. Montejo.

The MGB 7 asked Electona, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to implement the order.

The MGB 7, in its investigation, observed the small scale miners employing the amalgamation method or using mercury in recovering the gold through gold panning which is prohibited under Executive Order 79.  The activity covers more than 500 hectares in Sitios Damuyog, Kabuyonan, and Bancolino in Barangay San Francisco, Sta. Catalina.

Gold panning is a simple method of separating particles of gold from soil or gravels by washing in a pan with water.

Montejo said exposure to mercury—even in small amounts—may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in uterus and early in life.

He said mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. It is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

In a dialogue last August 14 at the Santa Catalina municipal hall attended by more than 60 gold mining operators with some MGB 7 personnel led by mining operations officer Raul Laput, Electona, and San Fransciso Barangay Captain Abundio Amil Jr., the miners were informed that the government will enforce the closure order with the AFP and the PNP.

The alleged financiers, namely, Dante Baylon, Ignacio Namoco, and Rizaldy Lampajo were invited to join the dialogue but they failed to attend.

Amil padlocked the rod or ball mills sometime in May this year but the operators forcibly opened the said facilities after several days.

In a dialogue, Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer – Dumaguete City Efren Rumbaoa and Environment Management Bureau Provincial Focal Point Person Loreto Rivac explained a number of environmental laws violated by the small scale miners.

Meanwhile, the MGB 7 received a petition by a certain Jezebel Tilos with more than 100 signatures addressed to Electona opposing the illegal gold mining activity as the operations affected the water resources in the area, destroyed the mountains, and damaged forest resources.

Tilos asked Electona to construct a dike to allow water to pass through to prevent flooding, and to stop the illegal gold mining.

The ball mill owners who attended the dialogue were Felipe Javellana, Melvn Maghanoy, Reymark Macalisang, Edie Linibron, Rodrigo Buscato, Dadong Hamoy, Roselyn Quijano, Roel Balolong, and Remilo Revito.

The Philippines is one of the world’s top producers of gold, which comes from the mines of Benguet, Paracale in Camarines Norte, and, on a larger scale, in Compostela Valley.

Almost 70 per cent of the gold is produced by small-scale miners. Since all minerals are considered property of the State, all gold produced by small-scale miners are then sold to the Central Bank or its authorized representatives, forming part of the country’s financial reserves.