Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) in Benguet to fast-track the declaration of a minahang bayan for use by small-scale miners in the province.
“I am directing the PMRB in Benguet to convene immediately for the declaration of a minahang bayan for our miners,” Cimatu told members of a small-scale miners association in Itogon town during their recent dialogue.
The PMRB is chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), represented by Director Fay Apil of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR).
Cimatu issued the statement as he politely turned down the petition by miners and gold panners to lift his order stopping all small-scale mining activities in the region following a landslide that killed dozens of small-scale miners in Itogon at the height of super typhoon Ompong last month.
The DENR chief said the suspension order remains in effect until a minahang bayan is declared and once it is already safe for mining operations to resume, particularly within the Benguet Corp. patented area in Sitio Luneta in Barangay Loakan.
Public safety is the government’s top priority, he said.
Cimatu likewise assured those who attended the dialogue that they would retain their rightful claim to the mineral resources in the area even with the suspension order.
“Minero kayo noon, minero pa rin kayo ngayon, at mga minero pa rin kayo sa mga susunod na panahon,” he said, explaining that the declaration of the minahang bayan was their only legal option in continuing their activities.
Minahang bayan refers to a common area where small-scale miners are permitted.
Cimatu reported that the processing of the application for a minahang bayan in Itogon was already underway.
He then advised the petitioners to abide by the suspension order and make sure their requirements are complete.
At the same time, Cimatu welcomed the commitment of the mining community to comply with all regulatory measures to be imposed by the different government offices to ensure their smooth operations.
The Itogon mining community had also committed to enter into a stewardship agreement in relation to reforestation and environmental protection and rehabilitation.
“Thank you for your benevolent offer, and I readily accept it,” he said, after reading a portion of the petition signed by the miners.
The environment chief also cited the commitment made by the miners to sell their gold to the Central Bank even as he urged them to pay the right taxes from their income.
During the dialogue, geologist Liza Manzano of the MGB presented the findings of the geohazard and technical assessment of the Itogon landslide that left 89 persons dead and 8 others missing.
Manzano characterized the area as highly vulnerable and likened it to a “shopping mall to all kinds of catastrophes” because of its susceptibility to all kinds of geological hazard.
“You’ve got it all,” she said, describing the danger of inhabiting the devastated mine sites in Itogon.
Adits and processing plants in Itogon have remained closed or cordoned off and shall remain unutilized, along with stockpiled mineral ore inventoried by the National Task Force Mining Challenge, unless permitted by the PMRB.
Republic Act 7076, also known as the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, gives the PMRB the authority to, among others, formulate and implement rules and regulations related to small-scale mining.
The minahang bayan was made possible by Executive Order No. 79 where small-scale miners are limited to areas declared as minahang bayan.
The DENR is eyeing two areas in CAR as minahang bayan reservations to help small scale-miners operate safely and earn a livelihood. ###