SSM face uphill battle for Minahang Bayan

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — Small-scale miners in Benguet who applied for Minahang Bayan under Republic Act 7076 or the Small Scale Mining Act of 1991 are facing an uphill battle against corporations and existing mining laws.

Last month, Benguet Corporation (BC) and Itogon-Suyoc Resources, Inc. (ISRI) filed formal protest against the application of Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners, Inc. (BFSSMI). Both claimed before the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) that areas applied for by local miners are within their existing mining claims.

Overlapping claim

“The [Provincial Mining Regulatory] Board may have overlooked these but initial investigation shows that the application overlaps the tenement of Itogon-Suyoc Resources, Inc. in Itogon, Benguet consisting of four patented mining claims and patentable mineral claims covered under Mining Lease Contract,” writes Michael Tauli, resident manager of the company in a letter dated June 21 and submitted the next day at the governor’s office.

Benguet Corporation likewise filed a verified opposition on June 20 at the regional office of the Mines and Geoscience Bureau. The company claimed that applicants “transgresses and are well within private properties covered by Patented Mineral Lands and valid Patentable Mineral Lands” under the company’s name.

These are located in Loacan, Antamok, Acupan, Virac, Tuding, Ucab, Gumatdang and Ampucao, all in Itogon, wherein about 90% are subject to the application for minahang bayan according to the company.

Unfair law

“Under the current mining law, it is more probable that areas eyed by small-scale miners will not be awarded to them since the state guaranteed the exclusive right of the company to utilize areas under mineral patents,” explained Fernando Mangili, secretary general of Benguet Small-Scale Mining Assembly (BSSMA), in Ilokano.

About 75% of Itogon is under mineral permits, agreements and patented title. Grantees own mineral lands covered by patents under the Philippine Bill of 1902. A jurisprudence, G.R. No. 63528, issued on September 9, 1996 affirmed this guarantee.

Mangili stressed that by virtue of colonial laws instituted by the United States and carried on by the pro-American administrations, the indigenous people of Benguet, particularly Itogon, were robbed of their rights over the minerals in their ancestral lands.

“Small scale mining has been the livelihood in Itogon even before the Americans came, with or without the recognition of minihang bayan, it is much better for us to assert our right to continue our livelihood,” he said.

Amend the law

Meanwhile, the BFSSMI noted that provisions under RA 7076 and its implementing rules and regulations are hard to comply with, especially for small miner groups.

“We have already submitted a position paper during a Congressional inquiry on the amendment of the law,” shared Engr. Lomino Kaniteng, president of BFSSMI.

The BSSMA is also conducting consultations with their members and LGUs where SMM operations are present.

“We are looking for ways to make it easier to come up with the necessary permits. One suggestion is to lobby for the amendment of the law, transferring the mandate to issue permit, manage and regulate SMM to local governments like Benguet,” said Mangili.

Support for Palangdan

Both leaders expressed support to Mayor Victorio Palangdan’s move to strong-arm Benguet Corporation over its refusal to grant the minahang bayan application.

Early this month, the mayor expressed his intent to unite officials and his constituents to demand Benguet Corp. to leave Itogon. He emphasized that their municipality is a declared ancestral land of indigenous people, thus, the company owns no land in their town.

“We do support what the mayor said, most of his constituents are small scale miners and Benguet Corp is requesting the task force [against illegal mining] to close all the small scale mining, so it is his duty to act,” declared Kaniteng.

Mangili said they support the announcement of Palangdan againt Benguet Corp, and his prior move to assert control over some areas claimed by the company.

Even before the minahang bayan row, the chief executive has also asked Benguet Corp. to surrender to the local government parts of their claim like built-up areas and abandoned mines.

Right to self-determination

Kaniteng pointed that since it is an ancestral domain “IPs should be the one manage their resources, make the policies how to use their natural resources.”

The BSSMA leader for his part shared that Benguet Corp. told them many times that they will only allow SSM under contract with the company and not through their group or cooperatives.

“We have a long battle ahead of us. Benguet Corp. will not give the lands because they want total control. What we must do is to unite those who depend on SSM and assert our historical rights over our land and livelihood,” Mangili said.# nordis.net

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