Ocden Warns Crackdown vs Illegal Mining and Logging

By GWEN GAONGEN
www.nordis.net

SAGADA, Mountain Province  – Provincial constituents and public officials were warned by Allen Sumeg-ang Ocden, Mountain Province PNP Director on a crackdown versus what government calls illegal small scale mining and logging.  A Joint Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) and Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board (PMRB) information drive and dialogue held April 27 at the municipal conference hall of Sagada tackled illegal activities relating to mining, logging, gambling and transportation.

The concerns mainly raised are access to timber and mineral resources.  Strong words by Ocden leaves participants confused as to legitimacy of Igorot rights on access to resources within their ancestral lands.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), clarified on salient points of the Peoples Small Scale Mining Act that lays down Minahang Bayan and contracts to undergo mining operation requisites.  According to MGB, not one of the 4 submitted Minahang Bayan applications covering areas in Mountain Province passed the requisites. For Mainit, the areas are covered by  both permanent environment protection order (PEPO) and a temporary environment protection order (TEPO).  Presently only small scale mining (SSM) operations in barangay Fidelisan of Sagada and; Matiim in Alab, Bontoc have regular operations.  But in the absence of legitimate mining contracts and approved Minahang Bayan permits; all SSM are deemed illegal by government.

PD Ocden gave SSM operators a week to dismantle and remove all apparatus at SSM sites. The PD promised to blast all illegal mines in order to put a stop to their operations if mining continues.  Ocden challenged all politicians and government bureaucrats to follow suit; otherwise they may face administrative charges.

There is no reprieve for logging too.  All timber cut in the province are illegal as no cutting permits may be issued even by the DENR or LGU officials for trees in forest lands. PD 705 or the Revised Forestry Code shall remain supreme even as the NCIP and the DENR have recognized and in fact, moving towards the operationalization of sustainable traditional forest management practices or what is commonly referred to as “Batangan System”.  “Batangan System is illegal” says Ocden, “…it is in conflict with the law”.  Ocden also promised to confiscate all these “illegally cut” lumber no matter if these are for public infrastructure projects, house construction or furniture.

These actions are simply enforcing president Duterte orders to stop illegal mining and logging.  Thus even chief executives who sit on this order may face charges of Mandamus to compel them to do their job.

Batangan System:  Remedy for IP Rights to Resources

And so the law says it is illegal for indigenous peoples to cut trees within their domains by virtue of PD 705 and total log ban.  Christopher Bosaing of the CENRO-Sabangan says that the DENR uphold the principle of “People first and sustained forestry follows” such that peoples’ rights to access resources is upheld as the peoples sustain the forests through taking responsibility.  That is why indigenous peoples of Mountain Province cannot just accept that all is “illegal” that is why in the late 1990s the DENR launched efforts to have the traditional sustainable forest management and utilization practices recognized by government.

In 2008 a DENR Department Administrative Order was released recognizing the Batangan System.  Through the efforts of the provincial DENR in collaborations with LGUs, research for the documentations of these customary law and practices were completed and submitted in 2010. A Joint Implementing Rules and Regulations by the NCIP and the DENR was later released in 2011 recognizing Batangan Systems of the Municipalities of Sagada, Besao and Tadian.  Supplemental guidelines followed in 2013 in relation to the recognition and operationalization of the Batangan System.  Beneficiary local governments took time in enacting ordinances that will mainstream the Batangan System hence the DENR in the last quarter of 2017 implemented efforts to reactivate realization of actual operationalization of the Batangan by conducting land use zoning, timber resource inventories and assistance to policy guidelines at a municipal level.

The Batangan System remains to be the current legal remedy to the IPs access to ancestral domain resources, as attested by the NCIP – government agency that is mandated to advance IP concerns through the IPRA.  Thus Bosaing urges all concerned local governments and offices to sit down and draw an action plan in a concerted effort to enforce and operationalize the Batangan System.

As all tree cutting is de facto “illegal”, people need to have available legal sources of wood in order to continue construction and other needs based on lumber. For now, plywood is the only legally purchasable wood in hardware stores in the province.  Other lumber yards in hardware stores in Isabela, Baguio City, and other adjacent cities may also have Gemelina lumber, imported pine, coco lumber and other wood that may be legal sources for construction and furniture.

Gambling and Colurum Vehicles

Crackdown on illegal gambling and illegal public vehicles or colorum vehicles are two other issues the PD will enforce.  He has clearly stated that all illegal gambling activities including those done during wakes shall be stopped.  Earlier confiscated “kulalongan” in the municipality of Sagada shall also be publicly destroyed as a measure to show seriousness on illegal gambling as well as to dispel rumours of PNP “recycling” these confiscated small time slot machines.  Ocden also says the PNP shall continue to increase police vigilance as to the plying of colorum vehicles in the province.

Livelihoods at Stake

Representatives from the Mainit pocket miners association directed their plea to the PD to allow them access to their tunnels.  According to them, they no longer operate the mines through power tools but have resorted to the traditional “panagbalkis”.  Mainit small scale mining is covered by existing Permanent Environment Protection Order (PEPO) and another Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) that were issued in response to the open pit operations and tunneling in previous years.

With Ocdens pronouncements that Dutertes orders shall be implemented to Stop “illegal” mining and logging; affected people are in a state of confusion.  Workers at small scale mining areas, workers in on-going construction sites both private and government, those in quarry sites for sand, gravel and stones along river banks and mountains, workers in furniture shops and lagaderos worry where their livelihoods would come from as Ocden ordered all these activities to “stop!” for as long as lumber, and all others are sourced “illegally”.

A driver of a “colorum” vehicle also laments that they are continuously hounded by “tiliw”.  He says that their livelihood as drivers is a decent source of livelihood for their families.  But with the implementation of all these restrictions, he is at a loss where money for their needs will come from.  On one hand, franchises are difficult to obtain so that their vehicles will be legitimate PUVs.

Thus local governments and institutions are challenged both to implement the law and second to assist in the employment and provision of support for these people whose livelihoods are immediately threatened. #nordis.net

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