6 nabbed for defying Itogon mining suspension
ITOGON, BENGUET — Six pocket miners were arrested this week as the government started a mine crackdown after massive landslides killed 89 people in Itogon town, Benguet province.
A special task force of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Benguet police pounced on miners who returned to their tunnels on Wednesday and Thursday in defiance of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu’s order banning small-scale mining operations on Sept. 17.
Three miners were caught processing ore at Barangay Tuding on Wednesday while three others were arrested at Barangay Poblacion on Thursday.
One of the mines was allegedly owned by a police officer.
While the task force fanned out to known mine sites, the agency was also rushing the establishment of a “Minahang Bayan” (people’s mine) to legalize pocket mining in gold-rich Itogon.
Barangay Ucab, site of the biggest landslide triggered by Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut) passed a validation process on Sept. 28 that paved the way for the government to grant the Minahang Bayan application filed by miners over a 21.6-hectare lot there, which is less than 10 percent of land in the village.
Once approved, this would be the first Minahang Bayan in the Cordillera and would be hosted by the town where the country’s first corporate mines were established.
Benguet Corp., the country’s oldest mining firm which began operations in 1903, had agreed to give up the area for registered pocket miners.
Deal with miners
Expediting Minahang Bayan applications was part of an agreement made in a meeting on Sept. 28 among officials of the DENR, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Benguet Corp., small-scale mining associations and Benguet Gov. Crescensio Pacalso.
Two other Minahang Bayan applications filed by the Loacan Itogon Pocket Miners Association, also in Itogon, are being reviewed.
The application covers 64.6 ha, more than the areas Benguet Corp was willing to relinquish, said lawyer Roland Calde, NCIP Cordillera director.
Itogon has unstable land which could lead to more landslides during heavy rainfall, so pocket miners allowed to run Minahang Bayan should sync their operations with the weather, Calde said.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) data showed there are five Minahang Bayan operating in the provinces of Quezon, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental, Eastern Samar and Dinagat Island.
As of February, the MGB had received 23 applications for Minahang Bayan in Benguet.
The move to rush the declaration of a Benguet pocket mine site is a welcome development amid the crackdown, said Lomino Kaniteng, head of the Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners.
Once a Minahang Bayan has been approved, Itogon miners will need to apply for contracts.
Twelve mining groups in Benguet had been given small-scale mining certificates which were revoked by Cimatu’s order to shut down all Cordillera pocket mines.
About 50 kilograms of gold is sold to licensed and black market dealers in Baguio City each week.
Gold traders buy a gram of high-quality gold for P1,500 while impure gold can be sold for P900 per gram.
These transactions generate up to P2 billion in money changing hands every year. —KARLSTON LAPNITEN
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