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IN his bid to legalize and regulate small-scale mining operations, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has vowed to fast-track the processing of Minahang Bayan applications starting with those wishing to operate in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) chief recently visited areas in Itogon, Benguet, which has a pending application for Minahang Bayan by small-scale miners. These include the Antamok, which is covered by the patented area of Benguet Corp., and the Gold Creek area, which falls within Gold Creek Mining Corp.’s mining patent.
There is still no Minahang Bayan in the CAR, an area with a rich gold deposit in Luzon.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-CAR, showed there are currently 65 pending applications for Minahang Bayan in the region.
Some of these have been endorsed to the MGB central office, while some still have documentary requirements that are yet to be completed.
There are numerous requirements for Minahang Bayan application. These include a petition for Minahang Bayan, an area status and valuation report from the MGB; results of initial review of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and MGB; proofs of notice to mining tenement holders, private landowners, to the host local government units (LGU), and to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP); proof of posting; and proof of publication.
Applicants are also required to submit a certification from the City or Provincial Mining Regulatory Board that there is no protest filed against the application and/or that favorable decision is final and executory; endorsement by the majority of LGU council members; certificate of nonoverlap and certificate of compliance with corresponding memorandum of agreement from the NCIP; and consent from the landowners or companies who have claims over the area being applied for Minahang Bayan. In case of areas with indigenous peoples, a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a must.
According to Engr. Alfredo Genetiano, chief of the MGB-CAR’s mine management division, the prerequisites for the FPIC and the FPIC process itself are the most challenging to comply with as the documentary requirements for the conduct of FPIC are too technical for small scale miners while the FPIC process takes time.
Earlier, Cimatu led the blasting of 18 mine tunnels at Sitio Basa, Camp 4 in Tuba, Benguet as part of the campaign against illegal small-scale mining operations in the area.
In a news statement, Cimatu vowed to implement the law as he vowed to ensure that no small-scale mining activities will be allowed outside a declared Minahang Bayan.
Small-scale mining under Republic Act (RA) 7076, or the Small-Scale Mining Act, operation of small-scale mining is only allowed within a declared Minahang Bayan.
Cimatu noted that some small-scale miners continue to use sodium cyanide which is highly toxic.
In addition, he lamented that small-scale miners do not have in place safety hazard control measures.
“I sympathize with these people. Their practice is very dangerous. I hope they could find other ways to earn a living other than illegal mining,” he added.
The mine tunnels ordered closed by Cimatu had intruded the military reservation of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Illegal mining operations in the reservation persisted despite a stoppage order issued by the MGB-CAR in 2013.
Relevant to the crackdown, the DENR chief has issued Special Order 53 creating the National Task Force on Mining Challenge (NTFMC).
The task force would ensure strict implementation of existing mining policies and regulations, as well as other related environmental laws.
The task force cracked down on illegal small-scale mining activities within the vicinities of the PMA; Barangay Kias in Baguio City; and Camp 4 in Benguet, which led to the closure of several adits and confiscation of mineral products, chemicals, and several equipment used by small- scale miners.
The task force would help the DENR and the MGB in implementing not only mining rules but also other environmental laws, such as those on pollution and illegal logging, which mining operations may have violated.
“Mining operations affect such a huge part of our environment, and are often covered by many interrelated environmental laws that cannot be addressed by the MGB alone,” Cimatu said.
The NTFMC, which now serves as the enforcement arm of the DENR, is expected to roam around the country to shut down illegal mines which do not only pose threat to the environment, but also to the lives of small-scale miners.
The task force will also run after illegal importers, retailers and distributors of explosives and cyanide which are commonly used in small-scale mining operations.
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