THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered mining companies to suspend their operations following heavy siltation and water discoloration at the Mapagba and Pinatatagan rivers in Banaybanay.

“I received the report yesterday (Jan. 17) confirming that the river has turned red due to extraction activities. I have instructed our regional office to immediately address the incident and to suspend the operations of the mining company(ies),” Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said in a statement.

The investigation, led by the DENR and its Davao regional office, attributed the extraction activity to Riverbend Consolidated Mining Corp. and Arc Nickel Resources, Inc.

Residents reported the changes observed along the rivers on Jan. 14. Heavy rains are believed to have caused the mines’ silt ponds to overflow, according to the DENR.

On Jan. 17, the miners were served a cease-and-desist order and notice of violation.

Separately, the Mindanao Development Authority’s new chair called for a review of mining operating practices.

“While the minerals industry continues to be cited as among the country’s economic drivers, some industry practices need thorough review and operations require close monitoring,” Secretary Maria Belen S. Acosta said in a statement.

Ms. Acosta said keeping mining operations in check was vital “to prevent pollution and contamination, distortion of the ecological balance and damage to water systems.”

“Economic development and environmental protection should go hand in hand. They should not cancel each other out,” she added.

DENR Regional Director Bagani A. Evasco said further assessment is ongoing to determine possible penalties, operational adjustments, and the extent of environmental damage to the area.

“Our legal team is also evaluating further action with regard to any of the violations,” Mr. Evasco said. “Further evaluation is being conducted as to the extent of environmental impact.”

The local government of Banaybanay said it will be conducting regular monitoring of the area as the mining firm implements measures to address the siltation. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson