Benguet town tests Aquino’s order on mining

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BAGUIO CITY—Testing the effectiveness of President Aquino’s mining policy and the 1995 Philippine Mining Act, the Kankanaey communities of Kibungan in Benguet asked the government to exempt them from large-scale mining during a church-led dialogue with national agencies here on Thursday.

The petition, which was sent to the Office of the President early this year, cited as justification for the exemption Executive Order No. 79 and the mining law (Republic Act No. 7942) which exempt watersheds and culturally sensitive areas from commercial mining.

The petition said Section 4 of EO 79 identifies prime agricultural lands and tourism spots among areas closed to mining activities.

“Our land comprising the whole territory of our ancestral domain is a prime agricultural land devoted to the production of high-valued crops, such as indigenous rice and highland vegetables, that supplies Regions I, II and the National Capital Region,” it said.

It cited the Les-eng and Palina rice terraces among tourist destinations that require preservation.

It said Kibungan has proclaimed watersheds, waterways and customary tombs which are closed to mining as prescribed by Section 19 of RA 7942.

The petition said the clans who hold certificate of ancestral domain title oppose large-scale mining due to its potential health hazards, impact on the environment and industrial impact on Kibungan’s waterways.

Aquino has directed the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to address the petition, beginning with the dialogue, according to the Igorota Foundation Inc., one of the nongovernment organizations helping the Kibungan clans.

Officials of the government agencies concerned said it was too early to say how Malacañang would heed the petition.

But Juancho Pablo Calvez, Mines and Geosciences Bureau acting deputy director and chief metallurgist, told the petitioners that the last mine leasehold claim over Kibungan expired on Sept. 28 last year.

“So no mine application can prosper without your consent,” he said.

He said the mining law still honors the indigenous peoples’ right to express their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to a project. The absence of their consent, he said, means no project can proceed.

Danilo Daguio, DA Cordillera assistant director, said the country’s drive for rice self-sufficiency this year is an important justification for Kibungan’s petition for exemption.

He said the country’s food industry is starting to export food products, like organic rice. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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