FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) is considering the gradual relocation of a small-scale mining community within its reservation now that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau has identified the military school as a no-mining zone.
But Maj. Gen. Nonato Alfredo Peralta, outgoing PMA superintendent, said he was not in a position to decide whether the PMA would allow the small-scale miners to continue tunneling for gold during the proposed period of relocation.
Peralta relinquished his post on Friday to incoming PMA superintendent Lt. Gen. Ireneo Espino in a ceremony that was witnessed by Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff. Peralta and Espino were members of the PMA “Matapat” Class of 1979.
One of Peralta’s last acts as PMA superintendent was to request the governments of Baguio City and neighboring Itogon town in Benguet to study a relocation plan for the miners who have lived and worked in the area for years, following a Nov. 19 dialogue with members of the Emerald Mountain Explorers Association Inc. and various government agencies.
Earlier this year, Peralta and PMA officials also began talks with Baguio families and relatives of retired soldiers who live inside the PMA, Navy Base and Camp Allen reservations, which are administered by the academy.
Over 500 families live on untitled property inside these camps, Peralta said, and negotiations had started to convince them to move out.
“Since the PMA is a military camp, we needed to assert our authority over that camp,” he said.
Peralta said PMA officials proposed to the local governments that they pursue talks to study whether a slow relocation process was necessary to ensure that the families are able to transition properly without losing livelihood opportunities.
But when asked if this meant allowing mining activities to continue during the transition, he said: “We cannot preempt the issues that would be raised in the dialogue… [But our] direction is for them to move out.”
This was the same approach the PMA used in discussing the dismantling of illegally built houses and the relocation of squatters inside the PMA and the military camps it operates.
Navy Base is near Baguio Botanical Garden while Camp Allen sits across the city hall.
Peralta said many of the older families the PMA had asked to relocate have been living at Camp Allen for years and are officially part of a recognized Baguio barangay.
Former PMA superintendents had tried but failed to clear these camps of squatters due to political and legal opposition, city records showed.
At the academy, for example, squatters were given an Oct. 31 deadline to relocate but the families managed to obtain a temporary restraining order from a Baguio court, Peralta said.
“That’s part of due process and we respect that. We adhere to the rule of law, which is why we did not proceed with the dismantling of illegal structures,” he said.
Espino, the former AFP inspector general, said he had consulted with Peralta during his previous visits here to understand the scope of the problem.
He said his administration would also pursue a gradual relocation of miners and squatters because a drastic eviction process would leave too many families homeless.
“We needed to confront that responsibility, that’s why we take action. [We take] concrete steps. However, we always take into account their rights so we approach the matter with their welfare in mind,” Peralta said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon