by Jimmy K. Laking
The Regional Trial Court in Bontoc has ordered the illegal mining activities in Barangay Mainit stopped to prevent untold danger to human lives and irreparable damage to the environment arising from “crude, indiscriminate, unsupervised diggings, and the illegal cutting of trees.”
“To ensure that stoppage orders are implemented with urgency, checkpoints should be set up to apprehend illegal transporters of ore and to apprehend and to file charges against illegal loggers (as well),” added RTC Branch 35 Judge Joseph Patnaan in his order.
At the same time, Patnaan ordered the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to make an inventory of all illegal small-scale miners and to issue stoppage orders against them.
The order also mandated concerned offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office to stop the illegal cutting of trees in the forest of Mainit and to arrest illegal loggers.
The order directed police authorities to set up checkpoints in coordination with DENR offices to arrest transporters of ore as well as illegal loggers and to seize the ores and lumbers being transported.
The RTC’s order arose from a petition for writ of mandamus and a permanent environment protection order filed by the heirs of Elizabeth G. Okoren against a group of private miners headed by one Christopher Culalad.
The Okorens own a property near five vertical shafts set up by Culalad’s group to get at the gold.
Culalad’s group denied ownership of the mining shafts as well as its participation in the mining activities.
In their initial complaint, the heirs of Okoren said the acts of the small-scale miners in operating a mining operation adjacent to the Okoren’s rice fields was illegal and if left unchecked, would lead to the denudation of the Mainit forests due to the cutting of trees to supply the timber needs of the tunnels.
As established by the court, the ore were extracted from the rice fields, loaded into trucks and transported to as far as Manila sans mining permits.
Included as respondents to the case were the Penro of Mountain Province, the Environment Natural Resources Officer, Engr. Fay Apil of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Gov. Leonard Mayaen, chief of police Benjamin Challoy, and the Police Regional Office and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Their answers were seen to have strengthened the petition against the group of illegal miners.
Photographs shown in court showed murky and polluted water running down a creek, eroded mountain sides, sacks filled with soil and rocks awaiting transport and piles of pine timber and lumber ready for use at the shafts.
The Court found the petition for the issuance of continuing mandamus meritorious.
“The failure of the public respondents to stop the illegal mining activities coupled with the doctrine of intergenerational responsibility that mandates that the present generation must ensure that the next generation yet unborn shall enjoy healthful and balanced ecology and the evidence showing illegal mining and illegal cutting of trees, compels this court to grant the writ prayed for,” the court said.