BAGUIO CITY – Only small-scale miners with duly approved “Minahang Bayan” (people’s mine) permit from the government would be allowed to operate.
This, after mining operations were earlier suspended as an aftermath of the disastrous landslide in Itogon, Benguet last September.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu made this clear on Wednesday during a consultation with over 5,000 small-scale miners from the various towns of Benguet, mostly from Itogon, at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources office in Cordillera in Baguio City.
“Ang inistop ko po is illegal mining. Ang gagawin natin i-legal natin ang illegal mining (What I stopped was the illegal mining. What we will do is to legalize the illegal mining), through the Minahang Bayan,” as provided for in the law,” Cimatu told the miners.
Speaking in the Ilocano dialect, he added: “kayat ku apan diay legal mining which is the Minahang Bayan (I want to shift to the legal mining which is the Minahang Bayan).”
He said the cease and desist order on all small-scale mining activities in the Cordillera stays until the Minahang Bayan is declared and opened.
“Pagbukas ng Minahang Bayan, lifted na (It will be lifted after the opening of the Minahang Bayan),” Cimatu said.
Responding to Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan query whether the miners can resume their small-scale operations, Cimatu said, “Let us wait for the Minahang Bayan.”
Cimatu ordered the fast-tracking of the processing of the Minahang Bayan applications and urged the other miners who have not applied yet, to file their applications to legalize their small-scale mining operations in Itogon and elsewhere in the Cordillera region.
He, however, added that a Minahang Bayan site must not be within a geo-hazard area.
“Because of what happened a month ago, which I do not want to be repeated, we will have the policy that Minahang Bayan sites should not be in areas declared as hazardous areas and there shall be no residential areas so that there will be no deaths related to small-scale mining activities,” Cimatu said.
During the dialogue, he said an 80-hectare area in Loacan, Itogon, within the property of mining giant Benguet Corporation, has been approved by the company to be declared as a Minahang Bayan.
Cimatu said he ordered this immediately processed by Benguet’s Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB), headed by the regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the provincial governor.
“I direct the PMRB to convene the meeting of the members and prepare the document for the Minahang Bayan,” he said.
Under the small-scale mining law, for an area to be declared as a Minahang Bayan, the consent of the large-scale mining owner must first be obtained. In this case, the Benguet Corporation has issued its consent for the declaration of the 80-hectare property.
Once declared and opened, Cimatu said, “makapagmina tayun nga saan nga kamkamaten ti pulis (We can already do mining without the police running after us).”
He also urged the local government to look for other areas that can be declared as Minahang Bayan, the only factor that will legalize small-scale mining activities in Itogon and other areas in the Cordillera region.
On the miners’ clamor to mill the ore they had already mined, the Secretary said he leaves the decision on the PMRB on whether to allow the mineral ore to be milled and converted to money for the use of the families affected by Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) and the fatal landslide.
“It was never our intention to stop your livelihood, but the government has the obligation to assure the safety of its citizens aside from assuring their livelihood. But if your safety is at risk, we will prioritize safety over livelihood,” he said.
Over 80 people— miners, women, and children — perished in a massive landslide in Barangay Ucab in Itogon, Benguet at the height of Typhoon Ompong in September as heavy rains softened the soil resulting in tons of muds gushing down the houses of miners in the mountainous mining village. LIZA AGOOT, PNA