Itogon Miners ‘Illegal’ in Own Hometown

Small-scale miners in the town of Itogon, Benguet find it hard to comply with the law regulating their trade, making them unable to register as miners.

Northern Dispatch
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Vol. VIII, No. 24, July 20-26, 2008

ITOGON, Benguet – This mining town’s small-scale miners find it hard to comply with the law regulating their trade, making them unable to register as miners.

Top town officials here admit small scale miners may be considered illegal because of the constraints in registration of their mining areas as Minahang Bayan (people’s mines) as required by the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 or Republic Act No. 7076.

“It is necessary for them to go illegal,” Mayor Mario Godio told the visiting Baguio-based press in this week’s Kapihan sa Benguet at the town hall.

Godio said the law asks too much of the miners. For instance they could not legally set up the Minahang Bayan because they could not get any consent from Benguet Corporation, which largely owns the claims over a vast mining area in the town.

Vice Mayor Noel Ngolob said most families in seven of nine Itogon barangays engage in mining. These include working in traditional mine tunnels or the larger corporate tunnels left by Benguet Corporation, sluicing on mountainsides or panning along river banks.

The provisions and restrictions of RA 7076 even make it harder for the townsfolk to choose gold as their town product in accordance with the law’s one-town-one-product (OTOP) provision, according to Godio. He said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which approves and encourages the selection of a product to promote imposes registration requirements that are similarly hard to comply with.

Asked how much gold small-scale miners produce, Godio cited Central Bank claims that the source of some 50 percent of the Philippine gold yield could not be ascertained.

“Mining companies and gold traders bring the other half to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the other half may be from small-scale miners,” Godio surmised.

Besides being unable to seek a corporate consent to mine areas whose mining claims are already issued to mining companies, Igorot miners are no longer traditional miners, with more modern implements and methods hastening the extraction of gold from the ore.

“They now compete with corporate mining processes,” the mayor said. They operate abandoned mines getting 60 percent of the ore production.

A Minahang Bayan can only be set up in areas where the mineral could be extracted employing traditional mining methods. Areas where mechanized equipment and tools are needed will no longer be identified for small-scale mining under the law.

Because miners in Itogon could not register as the law prescribes, they are often called illegal miners, feeding the underground economy. Ngolob, a lawyer, however said it does not mean that the society does not benefit from them.

“They pay taxes for operating their ball mills, buy products that carry value added tax, and use facilities that are normally taxed,” Ngolob clarified.

Itogon gets five percent of its P100-million annual budget from mining. Some 80 percent comes from the internal revenue allotment (IRA).

Besides mining for gold, silver, copper and other minerals, Itogon folk tend fruit trees and vegetables, raise fish in cages leave cows and goats in the pasture. At least three barangays (villages) have rice during the wet season.

The town’s terrain is largely rugged, with only a little flat land concentrated in Dalupirip, where most rice paddies in the town are found.

In 2000, the population of Itogon was 46,705, predominantly Ibaloy in Poblacion, Dalupirip, Tinongdan, Loacan, Virac and Ampucao, while Kankanaey in Tuding, Gumatdang and Ucab.

Gold-panning sites along the Ambalanga River are in Poblacion; and along the Agno River in Dalupirip. Tinongdan is the only barangay (village) where there are no mining activities of the population. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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