Balabag Hill in Zamboanga del Sur town again breathes life

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Only months after the government totally dismantled the illegal mining activities, TVIRD immediately commenced its first order of business –the rehabilitation of Balabag’s natural environment. (TVIRD photo)

BAYOG, ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR

Dipili River of this town was laden with toxic waste from chemicals, including cyanide, dumped by the illegal small-scale miners at Sitio Balabag in Bayog town.  Human wastes from hundreds of workers and their families had also found their way to the river.

Illegal tree-cutting was also unabated leaving Balabag Hill denuded, which destroyed the natural habitat of wild animals in the area.

Illegal artisanal mining was the livelihood of many people in this town since the early 1990s. People from neighboring towns in Zamboanga de Sur and other Mindanao provinces came in droves to join the gold rush in Balabag – literally killing the environment in the process.

This wanton activity came to a halt in 2012 when the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) issued and implemented a Cease and Desist Order and completely dismantled the illegal facilities through the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine Army (PA), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The lead agency was able to shut down hundreds of rod mills, seized a backhoe and grader as well as confiscated pregnant carbon.

Then, TVI Resource Development obtained a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and started rehabilitating Balabag’s environment.  

Restoring the natural environment

Only months after the government totally dismantled the illegal mining activities, TVIRD immediately commenced its first order of business –the rehabilitation of Balabag’s natural environment.

Trees and cover crops were planted, the quality of the water was regularly monitored, and toxic waste from hundreds of shallow tailings ponds were also taken out.  Clean-up activities also included the clean-up of Genaro Creek.

In her July report, Environment Manager Agnes Goze said that the company already planted more than 160,000 trees within and around its 4,779-hectare MPSA area.  Of this number, more than five hectares have been fully rehabilitated.

Forester Edward Vincent Borres also said that all rehabilitated areas were initially planted with cover crops to follow plant succession and for soil stabilization.  

In the rehabilitated areas, various plant species like Vetiver, Mani-Mani, and Setera total almost 300,000.

To mitigate the siltation from ongoing earthworks, TVIRD’s environmental crew constructed several silt ponds at Genaro and Onao-Onao Creeks.  

The mining company also performs water quality monitoring daily in both creeks, including Dipili River.

“We still have a long way to go.  But as Tony Edal (MMT member) said, ‘TVIRD has shown the community its concern.  It has programs and projects that aim to restore the environment,’” according to Community Relations Officer Lope Dizon. 

These programs have the full support of the Subanen tribe and the town’s local government unit.

A dark past

Tony L. Edal, a farmer and representative of the Subanen tribe in the Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT), has witnessed the illegal mining operations in Balabag and vividly remembers how the rich financiers destroyed the environment.

Ang mga wastes ug chemicals nga gipundo sa ilang mga dampakan deretso ra nga gipagawas ngadto sa suba. Kini ilang gihimo pagsugod pa lang sa ilang nagmina sa Balabag (The waste and chemicals stocked in their shallow ponds were thrown directly into the river.  And they were doing that since the day they started mining in Balabag),” he said.

Aside from Edal, Depore Barangay Chairman Danilo Sauclom, was also a witness of the illegal miners’ disregard of the environment.

“Illegal miners made Dipili River their dumping site for toxic wastes.  Many of them also dumped their waste into Genaro Creek, despite knowing it is a tributary of Dipili River.  The creek then was full of plastic cellophane, cans, and bottles,” Sauclom narrated.

TVIRD pledged to its host Subanen tribe that these abuses will not happen again. 

Balabag’s dark past will serve as a constant reminder to future generations that a clean environment – and a healthy, progressive community – have been achieved through the help of many people who do not take these for granted. (PR)

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