By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Small-scale miners and militant groups on Thursday, November 22, called on the government to lift the ban on pocket mining in the Cordillera.
“The stoppage order is a great tragedy and continuing disaster in the Cordillera,” said Fernando Mangili, secretary general of BSSMA.
He said the government must take into account the massive economic dislocation brought by the order.
“It is an emergency situation, lifting of the ban will allow the people to recover, continue their livelihood while working on the mechanics and complying with the requirement for the minahang bayan,” he explained.
Based on local government data, about 12,000 individuals depend on small scale mining in Itogon alone.
Mangili pointed that looking at the entire province of Benguet, more than 35,000 are into the trade and about 80,000 small scale miners in the entire Cordillera.
“The order is unfair and without basis. The tragic landslide that happened in 070 was not our fault. They should not blame the small scale miners,” he said.
Environment department chief Roy Cimatu ordered the closure of all small-mining operations in the region in September after the massive landslide in Ucab, Itogon that killed more than 80 individuals.
“Small scale mining has been part of our livelihood even before the existence of laws, it is a legitimate economic undertaking. They should return our freedom to mine,” he reiterated.
Sally Guinto, a resident of Ucab and member of BSSMA said the livelihood promised by the government are still under process.
“They are again validating those who applied, we still don’t know when are we going to receive the livelihood that we requested,” she said.
The livelihood programs composed of skills training provided by led by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and backyard animal raising and small businesses like grocery and rice retailing from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
There are also offers to work in construction sites and salt production in Pangasinan.
But Mangili said that these livelihood offers cannot really solve the problem of the 12,000 individuals who lost their source of income.
He also underscored that livelihood being presented to the people are limited, mostly for the ones affected by slide and located in the declared “no build-zone.”
The group explained that they cannot even shift immediately to agriculture for lack of water and most of the areas are acidic.
They also slammed the selective implementation order, citing the non-closure of the small-scale mining operation contracted by Acupan and Balatok mines.
Vicente Dilem of Kilusang Mayo Uno explained the mines and tunnels in the area more hazardous compared to the ones operated by private mines outside the claims of Benguet Corporation in Itogon.
“There is no safe place in Acupan. They don’t even have ladders there, miners use ropes to climb higher levels of the mine,” he said.
Many accidents with some resulting in deaths in the site only unreported, some are even leaving.
For his part, Mangili pointed that those who died in the accident are actually miners inside the claims of BCI.
He said he their tunnels they are operating are safer compared to the abandoned mines in Acupan because they are maintained.
The BSSMA leader emphasized that since owners of the tunnels are also miner themselves who enters with their workers, they ensure safety of their tunnels. # nordis.net