LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (Oct. 25) — Mineral claims still in the hands of large mining companies remain a legal impediment confronting some 30,000 small scale miners in Benguet, an official of the province’s Federation of Small Scale Miners (SSM federation) disclosed during the Benguet Forum on October 25.
Engr. Lomino Kaniteng, SSM federation president, said Benguet’s small scale miners have remained illegal despite the 14-year old Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1992, which he tagged inutile.
Kaniteng recounts before the media that RA 7076 should have caused the declaration of Minahang Bayan, (people’s small scale mining areas) and made the Igorot miners’ operations legal.
“There are so many barriers at legalizing our trade,” he said specifying that the mineral claims over a vast mining area in the province are still controlled by Benguet Corporation (BC), Philex Mining Corporation (Philex), Itogon-Suyoc Mining Corp. (Itogon-Suyoc), and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (Lepanto), among others.
According to Kaniteng, not even one Minahang Bayan has been declared since 1992 because most mineral claim holders do not give their consent for their mining site to be mined by the indigenous mining groups. He said, there are requirements that most miner groups could not comply with.
Aside from the mining permit, which they could not obtain if there is no consent from mineral claim owners, the miners have to go through a litany of government procedures such as geological survey, payment of various taxes and the preparation of a technical mining plan, according to Itogon miners.
Kaniteng said only two mining groups, one in Camp 6 and another in Dalicno in Tuba and Itogon, respectively, have obtained the mining permit. Camp 6, he said, covers an expired mining claim by the Black Mountain Mining Corp., and the Benguet Exploration (B-Ex) while that in Dalicno is covered by a mining claim obtained by traditional Igorot miners.
“Isunga iligal kami a ta awan met ti permit mi a nagapo iti gobyerno,” (That is why we are illegal because we do not have any government-issued permit.) Kaniteng admits. He quips, however, that they pay indirect taxes.
Kaniteng disclosed that the SSM federation has been campaigning for the registration and licensing of small scale miners with the provincial government, as he claimed that around 30% of the federation’s 65 member-organizations have responded to the campaign.
Small scale mining in the Cordillera is an economic activity since time immemorial. To date, there are around 30,000 engaged in small scale mining, according to Kaniteng. Government data, however, places the statistics at around 11,000 to 12,000. Kaniteng accounts for the discrepancy, saying the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau and the Department of Health tend not to include the women and children.
Kaniteng recounted some nodal points in Philippine history that trace how foreign mining firms took control of mineral lands after the Philippine Bill of 1902 took all unregistered lands as belonging to the State. This paved for the issuance of the Mining Act of 1905 which subjected mineral lands to mining patents, which Kaniteng differentiated as those before the 1935 Philippine Constitution and those issued after. The Mining Act of 1995, he said, introduced the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) in lieu of renewal of mining patents, where the mining permitee cannot claim control over the surface. He failed to mention the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) provisions of the 1995 mining law that has offered most Cordillera lands to foreign mining firms, according to organized indigenous peoples. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS