Typhoon Ompong and the Small-scale mining in Itogon

I have been trying my very best to keep my mouth shut Re: Mining in Itogon in consideration of the peace and my sympathy to all our bereaved Kailyans.

However, I am constrained to make a comment because of the patent DEPRIVATION OF LIBERTY AND PROPERTY WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW, in violation of our miners’ constitutional rights.

With just few spoken words, the DENR issues a Cease and Desist Order, plots a so-called “OPLAN ITOGON”, and equipped with Police Force and Army, stops all mining activities, arrests miners and confiscates mining tools and equipment. After losing loved ones and hard-earned properties, the government is basically rubbing salt to the wounds of our miners and their families. Not to mention the number of insensitive people who are blaming and accusing our miners for allegedly raping our mountains.

I am horrified with how the Cease and Desist Order is being implemented. It should be admitted that the Order was issued in consideration of the SAFETY of our Small Scale Miners (SSM). Sadly, that Order is doing MORE HARM than good in the lives of our miners.

Allow me to run you through why small-scale mining in Itogon was labelled as illegal. Let us dig deeper on the “why” so that we can see the bigger picture and in the end, address the issues effectively and amicably.

The Small-Scale Mining (SSM) in Itogon is not illegal per se. It is only illegal because they are not registered with the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB). Why they are not registered? Because the processes of registration, licensing, declaration of Minahang Bayan, and awarding of Small Scale Mining Contracts are LONG, TOO TECHNICAL, TOO EXPENSIVE, TEDIOUS, and COMPLICATED. Under the law, a person intending to undertake Small Scale Mining should first register with the PMRB subject to the submission of requirements. After accomplishing that, he cannot mine yet because he has to secure a Small Scale Mining License from PMRB upon submission of requirements like payment of fees and registration with the SEC, DTI, BIR, and other government agencies. Not to mention the need for applications for FPIC and ECC with the NCIP which are equally difficult and expensive. After accomplishing that, he still cannot mine yet because he has to file for the Declaration of Minahang Bayan with the PMRB subject to the approval and endorsement of the DENR Regional Office, DENR Secretary, NCIP, Sangguniang Bayan, Office of the Mayor and Governor, among others. After accomplishing that, he still cannot mine yet because he has to apply for a small scale mining contract application within an area in the declared Minahang Bayan. That is after complying with the mandatory requirements of another payment of fees, submission of application forms, Sketch plans, proposed mining contracts, Proposed Two-Year Work Program, Sworn Declarations, PEIMP, CEMCRR, CDMP, ASHP (whatever). Note, applications with incomplete requirements are not accepted. After that, the process is not yet done. In order to process the minerals, he still has to apply anew for a Mineral Processing Permit which demands A TON of requirements which I decided not to mention anymore. All these will take you YEARS to comply and yet your mining contract will only be effective for TWO (2) YEARS??? WTF. And yep, the requirement for payment of expensive taxes is another different and long story.

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Will a prudent man really decide to undergo all that knowing that he will be at the losing end considering that he is already risking his life and limb? Not to mention the uncertainty whether or not the mineral ores he mined will yield good prices. As of the moment, not a single application is approved by the DENR. I don’t think that is something that should be blamed to the miners. The need to put food on the table and send the children to school is more urgent than undergoing all the uncertain and problematical process.

During the time that we experienced the Typhoon Ompong’s wrath and its aftermath, a number of politicians and bureaucrats arrived, claiming that they want to help us. True enough, they acted in response to a crisis but they failed to act in a way that is helpful and sustainable. Oftentimes, when the government tries to fix one problem, it tends to open the floodgates of more problems. And here we are, scrambling to make drastic solutions.

While I recognize the fact that a number of issues has to be addressed like the conflict between our Mining Laws and the rights of Indigenous Peoples under the IPRA Law, the fact that the MGB is seemingly favouring the commercial Large-Scale Mining Companies by awarding large tracts of lands undermining the opportunity for the Small-scale miners, the clamour of the so-called environmentalists vis-à-vis the only livelihood of our miners, plus all the politics behind it. Honestly? These are issues that can only be addressed by the people we have voted for. And how did they address it? By issuing a Stoppage Order. For how long?

I will give the government the benefit of the doubt- that the issuance of the Stoppage Order is motivated by good intentions. However, it is my stand that the total ban on small-scale mining is not the answer to the conflict between environmental protection and economic opportunity. If the government made better laws which both regulates mining and protects our miners, I believe that we will not be in this nasty situation. It is indeed a perennial problem and yet, the government is taking too much time to formulate policies and guidelines.

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Small-scale mining, historically, is part of our cultural identity. It is our way of life. Small-scale miners are not opportunist fortune seekers neither are tax evaders; they are mere family-men who are trying to survive. Hence, it is my foremost prayer that our beloved government stop making band-aid solutions and start doing their real jobs.

As for us, let us be patient. Let us give the government a chance to redeem itself. But I hope that they act fast before another Typhoon hits us.

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