By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Pocket miners operating the tunnels below the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) that were shut down by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last February 10 said that their main source of livelihood was taken away.
“Pinattog dan ti banga mi, kasano kamin nga mangan ngay?” (They have turned over and emptied our pot, how will we eat now?”) Arnold Papay Sr., a member of the Papay clan, said.
Arnold said their clan stared operating these tunnels since the 1940s. He said that of the 18 tunnels only eight were being operated recently, the 10 others were abandoned in 2013 as a result of a dialogue with PMA officials. The Papay clan also have a 1972 memorandum of agreement with PMA for the use of the clan’s water source.
Around 200 police, government soldiers and DENR personnel raided small scale mines and confiscated ore, mining tools and equipment at Demonstration Mines in Loakan as a pilot operation of the newly formed National Task Force Mining Challenge tasked to stop illegal mining all over the country.
Arnold said they wanted to legalize their operations. He said they filed an application for a Minahang Bayan in 2013 which had not been addressed by the government.
“Immay da lattan ket kinompiska da dagiti naba ken usar mi, nakigtot kami, awanen maaramid mi,” (They just came, confiscated the ore in sacks and our tools and equipment, we were shocked, we could not even do anything) he said.
The Minahang Bayan are designated zones where small scale miners may operate, and where environmentally-secured mineral processing facilities may be installed, as mandated by Republic Act No. 7076 (the People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1991).
Although the Mines and Geosciences Bureau has processed 79 Minahang Bayan applications for the Cordillera, including Benguet province, none have yet been approved.
Director Fay Apil, of the Mines and Geosciences Nureau (MGB) Cordillera said that the applications require permits from land owners; consent from large scale mines with prior claims, the free, informed and prior consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples; and consent for appropriate agencies for those located within reservations.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said he understands that these pocket mines are sources of livelihood. “But the law should be implemented, this (illegal mining) has been going on for a long time now,” he said.
Cimatu was in Baguio on February 14 for the formal launching of the NTFMC which he intends to form a bureau tasked to enforce all environmental laws, with the assistance of the military, the National Bureau of Investigation, government prosecutors and the police, when he formally launched a national task force that will crackdown on illegal mining.
Cimatu said his proposed environmental protection and enforcement bureau will be empowered to arrest violators, confiscate and destroy structures and equipment that pollute the environment, and prosecute environmental criminals.
Cimatu accompanied the task force, headed by Undersecretary Rodolfo Garcia, who heads the task force back to Demonstration Mines to blast and seal the 18 tunnels so that no one can go back to operate them.
Garcia, who also heads the Pollution Adjudication Board, said the crackdown was meant to preserve the environment and to prevent some of these illegal mines from financing the New Peoples Army (NPA) by paying rebel taxes. Garcia was a former Armed Forces vice chief of staff and spokesman.
Arnold said no NPA ever came to their pocket mines so how can they pay “revolutionay taxes”. He added that they only allow clan members to operate their tunnels.
Engr. Lomino Kaniteng, president of the Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners, Incorporated (BFSSMI) said pocket miners in Benguet do not pay “revolutionary taxes”.
BFSSMI has 23,000 members operating in seven of the thirteen towns of Benguet.
Garcia said they have received “NPA extortion” complaints from large and small mines all over the country. He said most of the complaints came from the CARAGA region in Mindanao.
Garcia admitted that they have not received any “extortion” complaints from the Cordillera.
Garcia said that NPAs collect bigger amounts from large mines, as big as P100M a year. He, however, said he is not in the liberty to divulge which mines are paying revolurionary taxes to the NPA.
He said that based on the information forwarded to them, the NPA has collected some P1.5B from various mines all over the country in the past several years. # nordis.net