LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Small-scale miners in this upland province have something to look forward to as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Cordillera is set to relax the registration procedures for them to be included in the so-called “Minahang Bayan” or People’s Small-Scale Mining Area.
In an exclusive interview with Philippine News Agency (PNA), the bureau’s regional director, Fay Apil, said MGB-Cordillera is coming up with a revised procedure on registering for the Minahang Bayan to make it easier for the small-scale miners to register their activity.
“To be honest, wala pa talagang Minahang Bayan na na-approve sa Benguet and the whole Cordillera. (The fact is there has been no approved people’s small-scale mining yet in Benguet and in the entire Cordillera),” Apil said.
With the present procedure, the MGB-CAR official said, among the major setbacks for the small-scale miners seeking registration in the Minahang Bayan program is securing the consent of the indigenous people and large mining companies.
Such requirement provided in Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, also known as the Minahang Bayan Law, which states that small-scale mining operations must be done only within the declared area for such purpose.
This is apart from the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA Law), which states that Indigenous Cultural Communities or Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) have the right to Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) prior to the conduct of any activity within their ancestral domain areas.
Apil said the law was aimed at protecting the rights of ICCs/IPs in the introduction and implementation of plans, programs, projects, activities, and other undertakings that would affect them and their ancestral domains to ensure their economic, social, and cultural well-being.
Apil admitted that applicants for Minahang ng Bayan in Benguet are having a hard time in getting the FPIC.
Add to this problem, she said, the hurdle of obtaining of the consent of owners or concessionaires of areas with mineral claims, mining agreements for exploration, mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA), and financial technical assistance agreements (FTAA).
Apil said the so-called “pocket miners” are hopeful that once their activities get legalized, their families’ economic conditions will improve, enabling them to give their children education.
Earlier, Lumino Kaniteng, president of the Benguet Small-Scale Miners Federation (BSSMF), said there were so far 20 applications for Minahang Bayan in Benguet, and 11 or 12 in Itogon town. All applications were pending before the MGB-Cordillera office, he said.
The BSSMF explained that in Itogon, 56 percent of the land area is classified as forest land, 41 percent are mineral land, mostly operated by large mining companies Philex Mines and Benguet Corporation. The remaining 3 percent is agricultural land.
The Minahang Bayan is within the 41 percent of the declared mineral land, Kaniteng said.
Kaniteng emphasized that small-scale miners in the province are willing to legalize their operations, even as he urged the government through MGB to fast-track the processing of the applications of their members.
Itogon town had even held a month-long consultation, mainly to inform the local pocket miners and the residents about the Minahang Bayan, the government’s tax administration programs, and the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that identifies possible areas for Minahang Bayan. PNA-northboundasia.com