By KIMBERLIE OLMAYA NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY—The new mining order of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, or his Executive Order (EO) 79, will adversely affect small scale mining (SSM) and further strengthen corporate and large scale mining.
Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), said the new mining policy will kill the small-scale mining industry as it gives more leeway to large-scale mining companies in plundering the country’s mineral resources. He explained that the provision for the declaration of a Minahang Bayan seeks to confine small-scale mining to a very limited area contrary to what the EO boasts of, that is a mere regulation of the industry.
Mero said that in limiting the areas for small-scale mining, the EO gives large-scale mining companies wider areas for maneuvering. He pointed out that areas identified for the application of a Minahang Bayan in the Cordillera are mostly with mineral claims of large mining companies.
He cited the CPA’s study showing that 1.2 million hectares of the 1.8 million total land area of the region is covered with mining applications, including those with overlapping mine claims.
“The tables have been turned – the indigenous peoples are the ones seeking the consent of mining companies to mine the people’s own resources,” Mero stressed.
Mero also reiterated that the EO just reinforces the existing repressive mining laws such as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which has opened the country for plunder by large mining transnational companies.
“We reiterate our call to scrap the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and pass instead a pro-people mining bill to protect and preserve what is left of the country’s resources,” Mero said.
Mountain Province Governor Leonard Mayaen, in an interview, said the new EO did not answer the problems with the SSM law which provides very stringent requirements for the declaration of Minahang Bayan area. “Compliance to the requirements of the Minahang Bayan is very hard to accomplish,” he said. He added that small-scale mining has long been a source of livelihood to many indigenous peoples’ communities.
Mayaen added he will support moves to question the EO as long as it contradicts his position. “I have always been against large-scale mining,” he said.
He shared that the Mountain Province provincial board has already passed an ordinance banning large -scale mining in the province.
Benguet Vice Governor Cresencio Pacalso, in an interview, admitted that there are many small-scale mines being operated without permit in Benguet. “Local governments in the province exercise maximum tolerance knowing that small-scale mining is a major source of livelihood to many of their constituents,” he said.
Pacalso raised concerns about the impact of the EO on the province’s small-scale mining industry. He explained that the EO has a clause for repealing, and it is possible it will be used to repeal the Presidential Decree 1899. The EO effect on PD 1899 should be clarified, he said, especially since many small-scale mines in Benguet are operating on PD 1899 special permits.
PD 1899 was issued in 1984 by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It allows the granting of small-scale mining special permits to individuals, valid for two years and is renewable for another two years.
Faye Apil, regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR, in a press conference, said the new EO does not ban small-scale mining but it seeks to strictly regulate it and confine it to one area for easier regulation and monitoring. She claimed that small-scale mines are confined to Minahang Bayan areas for easier management of mine wastes with the creation of central processing plants and tailings ponds for the protection of the environment.
She also assured that small-scale mines with valid permits will continue to operate but these shall be subjected to the new EO after permits expired. She confirmed that small-scale mines in the region are operating with special permits issued under the provisions of PD 1899.
Engr. Zards Gacad of the MGB said the EO will affect to a large extent the small-scale mining industry, as the new mining order seeks to regulate it. He added that the MGB is also having difficulties in dealing with illegal small-scale mines. But he said the impact on the small-scale mining industry will be among those the agency seeks to clarify before the EO’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are issued.