Hydraulic Mining Operations or popularly known as “Banlas” is a common activity in Tampakan, South Cotabato. Barangay Pula Bato and Tablu are identified areas where banlas became rampant. As Sustainable Development students of Mindanao State University – Graduate School Program, my group conducted a research about small scale mining activities in the area.
We conducted research for our subject in Socio-Economic & Political Dimension of Sustainable Development (SDS 202) under Prof. Wilfredo Bidad. We are assigned to tackle about small-scale mining in SOCSKSARGEN. We chose Tampakan in South Cotabato to gather data about it. This data will be analyzed and presented in a forum on October 16, 2013 at MSU-AVR (we also organize it). We went to Barangay Pula Bato to gather data.
Before, Pula Bato is “one of the biggest and the most progressive” Sitio of Barangay Liberty (Tampakan). It became an independent barangay on October 25, 1987. Its boundary in North is Barangay Danlag, in East is Barangay Tablu, in West is Barangay Buto, and in South is Barangay Liberty. Pula Bato has six puroks – Duranta, Orchids, Sun Flower, San Francisco, Gumamela, and Sampaguita; and two sitios – Campo Kilot and Aspang/Miasong. This barangay has mix inhabitant – B’laan, Cebuano and Ilonggo.
This barangay experienced land dispute over the years. This is mainly because of the deposits of minerals in the area - Blaan vs. Blaan; Blaan vs. settlers (from Visayas); and the residents vs. mining companies. Conflicting of different laws such as IPRA Law and Environmental Code of South Cotabato also causes confusion to the residents. Moreover, some local officials also ride in this situation. For example, when two families are not in good terms because of land claim, the local politician creates conflict by manipulating either parties (or some cases the other party is his connivance). He becomes a mediator to these two parties. When the other family cannot pay money to the other family (for damages, if the other party does not win the case), the politician will decide that the collateral will be a land. The other party force to give their land because they have no money to pay for settlement fee. At the end this politician acquires this land because of his power and influence in the community.
Agriculture is the main livelihood of Pula Bato. Since the discovery of minerals in this barangay, the people shifted from agricultural livelihood to small scale mining (SSM) activity. The reason for it is that, the SSM is more profitable than agricultural livelihood. Expensive agricultural inputs and shortchange of its products forces the people of Pula Bato (and Tablu) to go into SSM. It provides immediate employment and livelihood for the residents and migrants.
Banlas is “destructive form of mining that uses high-pressure jets of water to dislodge or move sediments which has devastating effect to the environment. This form of mining method brought much siltation to the river channels, cause landslides, uprooting and cutting of maturely grown trees.” This method was first uncovered in T’boli, South Cotabato. This method has increased in the last several years in numerous small scale mining areas in Tampakan town.
The SSM activity in Pula Bato is considered illegal because Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) applied FTAA for it. The Local Government Unit (LGU) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cannot issue a permit for SSM because it was agreed that the area is reserved for SMI. Since the residents have no source of living, they are force to go into this activity in order to survive. The banlaseros are aware of its risk and still continue to gamble their lives in order to feed their families.
The study of Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM) identified some of the challenges that are critical in understanding the small-scale mining industry, these are:
1. The legal definition of “small-scale mining” may no longer be applicable to all existing small-scale mining in the areas. A distinction has to be made between small-scale miners who use the traditional method of mining and miners who have mechanized are using more advanced technologies.
2. Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 gave the IP communities priority rights in the extraction/development/exploitation of any natural resources and in entering into an agreement with large-scale mining companies. Different claims over ancestral land created conflict between IP groups. A mechanism to validate the authenticity of some group of IPs’ claim over lands should be developed. IP communities have also been vulnerable to manipulation of big corporations.
3. The capability of both the national and local government in enforcing regulations should be examined. Despite the existence of regulatory policy on SSM, enforcement of these policies has been a perennial problem.
4. Mining communities should also be introduced to alternative livelihoods, to provide options to the residents of mining communities. This would provide additional economic activities in the mining areas and alleviate stress imposed on the environment.
5. The shift from agricultural to mining contaminates soil and water supply and threatens food security and development of agriculture in the area.
SSM will continue if proper action is not yet materialized. It will be futile to the LGUs, Provincial Government of South Cotabato and Mining Company (e.g. SMI) to conduct raids and other tactics to stop SSM activity in the mining area. “There is a need for the development of sound policies and laws to balance economic and development and environmental sustainability.” The residents should appreciate the principles of Sustainable Development in their community. The right social intervention, education and strong enforcement of laws are a must. But the conflict of interest of the different sectors remains a big challenge in resolving this issue.
The Alternative Forum for Research in Mindano (AFRIM). A Background Study on the Small-Scale Gold Mining Operations in Benguet and South Cotabato and their Impact on the Economy, the Environment and the Community. March 2012
Municipal Environmental and Natural Resources of TampakanBarangay Development Plan of Pula Bato
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