ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu on Monday vowed to fast-track the “minahang bayan” applications for the operation of small-scale mines, particularly in Benguet.
Following his order to shut down illegal small-scale mining operations, Cimatu recently visited areas in Benguet’s Itogon town that have pending small-scale mining permits at the Antamok area covered by the patented area of Benguet Corp. and the Gold Creek area within Gold Creek Mining Corp.’s patent.
On Feb. 14, Cimatu led the blasting of 18 illegal mine tunnels at Sitio Basa, Camp 4 in Tuba, Benguet.
This was an initial step to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ bid to crack down on illegal mining activities, the secretary said.
“We have to implement the law,” Cimatu said, adding that no small-scale mining activities should be undertaken outside a declared “minahang bayan.”
Several small-scale mine operations use sodium cyanide, which is highly toxic, he said.
Moreover, the small-scale miners do not have safety hazard control measures in their operations, Cimatu added.
“I sympathize with these people. They’re doing a very dangerous job. I just hope they could find other ways to earn a living other than illegal mining,” he said.
Through the new National Task Force Mining Challenge, Cimatu led the DENR team in blasting the five mining portals found near the Philippine Military Academy on Valentine’s Day.
The NTFMC is made up of officials of the DENR, the Philippine Army, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
During the national launching of the task force in Baguio City, Cimatu pointed out the need to seal the portals, since small-scale mining operators have violated mining laws.
“We have to blast the entry points and the areas they have dug to ensure the none resurgence of their operations but in a safe manner,” the secretary said.
The crackdown on illegal mining is based on Special Order Number 2018-53 dated Jan. 26, creating the task force to strengthen the enforcement of laws against illegal mining and ensuring the filing of ether administrative, civil and criminal charges against the perpetrators and operators.
“This crackdown on illegal mining operating within the area of PMA have been operating for 10 to 12 years and because of this, we have to implement the law. It may hurt the people operating it, but we have to implement the law,” added Cimatu.
The former Armed Forces chief of staff said the blasting of the portals within the PMA boundary was legal since it is a timberland site. The academy plans to extend the area within a government lot to be awarded in a separate proclamation by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Republic Act No. 7076, or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, requires that small-scale mining operations must be undertaken only within the declared people’s small-scale mining areas or “minahang bayan.”
Small-scale mining is the second-biggest economic driver of Benguet province, affecting 23,000 miners of 70 associations and cooperatives. More than half of the associations are in Itogon, with an estimated 12,000 miners, according to the Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Mining.