By ARGYLL B. GEDUCOS and ZALDY COMANDA
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu ordered small-scale miners to stop their operations in the entire Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) following massive landslides in Itogon, Benguet that killed at least 43 and 30 others are missing.
Cimatu made the announcement during a Palace briefing in Benguet yesterday morning led by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
“In view of this current situation in the Cordilleras, to prevent further danger to the lives of our small-scale miners, I officially order cease and desist of all illegal small-scale mining operations in the whole of Cordillera Administrative Region,” Cimatu said.
“At present, there are existing applications for Minahang Bayan in some areas of the region. While we await for the approval and proclamation of these applications, we ask our small-scale miners to cooperate and stop all small-scale mining activities here,” he added.
To make sure that illegal small-scale miners follow the stoppage order, Cimatu said the DENR will deploy soldiers and policemen to the region, especially in Itogon.
While there are no legal mining operations in the region, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Cordillera Director Fay Apil said there are 10 associations who have temporary permits to hold mining activities in the region.
“When EO 79 was issued, it said there that those who are in possession of small-scale mining permits, will be given temporary small-scale mining contracts until their areas are declared as Minahang Bayan,” she said.
In the light of the Itogon incident, Cimatu revoked the permits of the 10 associations effective yesterday.
However, Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan appealed for a technical conference before DENR closes small-scale mining sites. Palangdan said there are small-scale miners who are following the law but are unable to secure permits because of provisions under the Small-scale Mining Act.
“There are small-scale miners that are following the laws, only the fact that they could not get license or permit because of the provisions under our Small-Scale Mining Act that you cannot apply for a permit if that big mining company will not issue you a permit. That should be amended in Congress,” he said.
“We should have first a technical conference to determine the areas that are dangerous and should be stopped, and not to stop all the mining operation of small-scale. Because if you will visit the area, talagang meron pong pwede na pagtatrabahuan ng mga tao na hindi po delikado sa area (there are really areas which are not dangerous for our miners),” he added.
Cimatu said he will consider the mayor’s proposal but maintained the mining sites will remain closed.
“We are closing all small-scale now. Then of course, I will respect your request to first hold a technical conference, we’ll do that later. Let’s discuss that with the stakeholders,” he added.
“This (landslide) already happened and we can’t ignore it because a lot died already,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cimatu said that he will be more strict with the creation of Minahang Bayans in the region, noting that miners would have to comply with the laws.
“This time, I will be more strict in the location of the Minahang Bayan because dapat naman kasama diyan sa mga conditions diyan ay ang mga titirhan dapat ng mga minero ay hindi dapat sila prone ng mga ganito mangyari. Wake-up call dito eh, ‘yung nangyari diyan (the location should be safe for miners to live in),” he said.
“They will be required to pay the taxes, they will be required to observe the regulation in mining, sanitation… So these are the conditions na no way ka talagang magmina kung hindi mo ma-comply ito (which you have to comply with or else you cannot mine),” he added.
To those affected by the closure of the illegal mines, Roque said, “We have cash for work from the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. After that, we will activate the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for alternative livelihood.”
“Meron din tayong mga field offices na DA (We also have Department of Agriculture field offices) and I’m sure later on you might hear it from the President himself that he is tasking them to assist these individuals in pursuing alternative livelihood,” he added.
Roque said that he will also tap the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) to hold the “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” job fair in the CAR as more manpower is needed for the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
DSWD Secretary Virginia Orogo, meanwhile, said they are looking to boost the region’s weaving industry to help those affected by Cimatu’s order and by the typhoon.
Meeting with government officials on typhoon relief efforts in Ilocos Norte Sunday,
President Duterte said he is “hell-bent” on stopping open-pit mining in the country at the risk of losing P70-billion revenue from the mining sector than risk further damage to the environment.
The country will endure “perdition” if the government would not put an end to “destructive mining” operations this year, the President declared.
Open-pit mining operations, he stressed have left bottle cap-like holes on lands, causing environmental hazards such as soil erosion.
The nearby communities are “always in danger” due to the open-pit mines, he added.
“I pity my country. And if I do not decide really to stop it, although we are 70 billion sa taxes sa mining, but if you compare it with the destruction and on the long term, our children will suffer,” he said.
“Mining must stop. And if I cannot stop it during my time as President, nobody can because it’s big business and the pressure is just too great,” he added.
Duterte said the protection of the nation was the “only one thing” in his mind.
“Wala akong agenda diyan. I do not want to talk to them,” he said about the mining firms.
He said miners could go instead to Australia or other countries that have a different mining method.
“They can do it but not the way it is being done today because I said it will be – it would result in a perdition for the country,” he said. (With report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)