Convert abandoned mines to ‘Minahang Bayan,’ group urgesPhilippine Daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY—Abandoned mines and idle lands covered by old American mineral patents must be returned to the public domain and developed into “Minahang Bayan” (public mines) zones for small-scale mining communities, the leader of Benguet’s small-scale miners said on Sunday.
Lomino Kaniteng, president of Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners (BFSSM), said this was one of the insights in a Benguet government position paper that was sent to Malacañang last week.
The paper contains Benguet’s inputs to the draft implementing rules and regulations (IRR) governing Executive Order No. 79. Copies of the proposed IRR were distributed to governors of seven provinces hosting large mining communities, including Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan.
Benguet is home to the oldest Philippine mines. The industry was pioneered in Itogon town by Benguet Corp. in the early 1900s.
But many of these mines own patents to their Benguet mining lands which were issued by the American colonial government, Kaniteng said.
These patents make the old mining companies the absolute owners of these lands, unlike newer mines which lease property from the government, he said. The issuance of patents was stopped in 1935.
“The patents include nonmineralized lands which are not useful to mining, so EO 79 should have a mechanism to restore those parcels of land to the public domain so it could benefit other sectors,” Kaniteng said.
The Benguet paper asked the government to include the following paragraph in the IRR of EO 79: “All mined-out mining tenements, mining claims … which are still idle and mining tenements without commercial ore deposits as determined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources shall revert back to the public domain for other land uses.”
Itogon Mayor Oscar Camantiles said some companies, which suspended their Benguet operations when world metals trading plunged in the 1980s and 1990s, returned last month to raise new buildings on their old mine claims because of a government plan to reclaim abandoned mine projects.
Section 7 of EO 79 says: “All valuable metals in abandoned ores and mine wastes and/or mill tailings generated by previous and now defunct mining operations belong to the State and shall be developed and utilized through competitive public bidding in accordance with the pertinent provisions of law.”
Kaniteng said Benguet wants clearer prescriptions in the IRR that address indigenous Filipino rights.
The government should also grant indigenous Filipinos full discretion to determine whether they would allow their ancestral domains to host a Minahang Bayan, he said.
The Benguet position paper asks the government to establish that impact areas of mining must also include “downstream farmlands, watersheds of rivers and bodies of water that local communities need for domestic or irrigation use, and coastal municipal fishing grounds.”
The paper urges government to include the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) among the agencies tasked to operate under a one-stop-shop for all mining applications and procedures.
Kaniteng said there are local officials who believe an entire province could be declared a Minahang Bayan.
He said EO 79 did resolve a legal debate over small-scale mining regulations by emphasizing the authority of provincial mining regulatory boards over local governments.
Mayors and governors used to issue small-scale mining permits because of Presidential Decree No. 1899, a 1984 law governing small-scale mining, despite the passage of Republic Act No. 7076 (People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991), Kaniteng said.
But RA 7076 should be amended because it still refers to PD 1899 as an active law, he said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon