Miner gets nod to operate; villagers fear return of prostitution, child trafficking

DIPLAHAN, Zamboanga Sibugay -- As government regulators have flashed the green light for the Balabag Gold-Silver Project of TVI Resource Development (Philippines) Inc. (TVIRD) in nearby Bayog town in Zamboanga del Sur to proceed, some villagers are “not really optimistic.”

Freddie Canoy, a resident of the gold-rich mountain of Balabag in Bayog, said: “We already know what will follow once the full-operations will start.”

The history of the gold-rich village is more of a “sad story than a promise of a good life,” added Canoy, who once work for a small-scale mining venture.

The mining trade in gold-rich Balabag mountain, around 20 kilometers north from this town, is not only threatening the environment and the health of its people but also breeding other ills that jeopardize the future of its children.

This picture will not go away with the government’s go-signal for TVIRD to develop its gold-silver project in the area, Canoy asserted.

TVIRD has secured approval to develop its 100-percent-owned Balabag gold-silver project in Zamboanga del Sur from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last year.

Receiving approval of the declaration of mining project feasibility (DMPF) was the last major permit required by TVIRD to proceed with development, construction and operation of the Balabag mine.

The DMPF authorizes TVIRD to start development initially over a 180-hectare portion of the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) area that covers all currently defined resources at the project.

Prostitution and child trafficking have become a big problem in the gold-rich village, as well as in Diplahan town. Many have been lured into prostitution in exchange for money -- P1,500 for three hours of sex in thatched houses that serve as dens to miners wanting a good time after putting in a hard day’s work.

Police records showed that child trafficking and prostitution are a big problem at the time the gold-rich mountain was dotted with small-scale miners.

The environment was threatened since small miners used mercury and cyanide to extract precious metals from the earth and these chemicals find their way into streams and rivers and pose a danger to the health of thousands of people.

And the tunnels dug by miners -- some under their houses -- are also in danger of collapsing due to poor construction and the lack of safety equipment. Miners who work inside the tunnels do not wear hard hats or gloves, and authorities are unable to stopping illegal mining operations.

“Nahadlok mi masubli ang tanan ang mamatay kining among dapit,” said Narciso Gano, a resident and a Subanen. “This mountain is our home, our life.”

Perhaps, Gano was not aware that TVIRD has secured in 2014 the consent of the Subanen tribe in the area for the development of the Balabag mining project.

Under the supervision of the National Commission on Indigenous People, the publicly-listed TVIRD entered into a memorandum of agreement with tribal leaders Lucenio Manda and Casiano Edal, who represent the collective Subanen people in the municipality.

The agreement signed by the Subanen tribal leaders was a prerequisite for a Certification Precondition to be issued by the NCIP Commission En Banc in order for the company to operate its Balabag Mining Project.

The company’s MPSA area covers some 4,779 hectares in Sitio Balabag in Barangay Depore where it is primed to bring its gold and silver project on stream. Balabag is a haven — of gold, women and more gold. (Sunnex)
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