‘Minahang Bayan’ pitfalls
DAVAO CITY—The Aquino administration calls it “Minahang Bayan” (People’s Mining Area), which evokes a community in the country’s gold-rush areas where small-scale miners are allowed to thrive and operate. Unfortunately, the miners themselves believe the scheme is far from reality.
Many small-scale miners contend that the government-declared Minahang Bayan was meant to get them out of their areas so that large-scale miners can enter, and this is the reason they are against Executive Order No. 79, said Belen Galleto, secretary general of the sectoral group Save Pantukan Alliance.
The newly released EO, which spells out President Aquino’s mining policy, limits the presence of small-scale miners to areas declared Minahang Bayan.
As early as 2011, the regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) announced three Minahang Bayan areas—Barangays Diat, Biasong and Boringot—in Pantukan town in Compostela Valley province.
Despite the order signed by Gov. Arturo Uy, no small-scale miner has applied for a contract, according to Edilberto Arreza, MGB regional chief.
Galleto explained that the three segregated areas are far from where the small-scale miners were operating—Barangays Panganason, Gumayan and Lumanggang. These work sites, however, are covered by the mining claim of Nationwide Development Corp. (Nadecor), which has an existing mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA), she said.
On the other hand, the areas in Biasong, Boringot and part of Diat are covered by the claim of Napnapan Mineral Resources Inc. (NMRI), she said.
Since 2007, she said, member-groups of Save Pantukan Alliance had been seeking the declaration of Diat, Biasong and Boringot as “Minahan ng mga Katutubo” and of Panganason, Gumayan and Lumanggang as Minahang Bayan.
In fact, the area was already visited by the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board of Compostela Valley for the delineation. “It has gone through a long process,” Galleto said.
Big miners’ claims
The small-scale miners have already completed all the papers and requirements, she said, but they did not pursue their applications because they were being asked to secure the consent of Nadecor. The MGB eventually declared a moratorium on all applications.
Arreza acknowledged that the bureau could not do anything because the areas are covered by Nadecor’s MPSA.
Small-scale mining in Pantukan started in 1989, Galleto said. “It started with gold panning in the river until eventually the miners started digging tunnels in the mountain,” she said.
“[They] were already in the area when Nadecor was still starting its logging concession,” she said. The company’s MPSA started in 1992.
“We’ve been [there] … even before Nadecor and NMRI, but we were denied the permit that would have allowed us access to the government’s resources and technical support,” she said.
“The MGB declared us illegal, but who turned our operation illegal? They were the ones who made us illegal,” Galleto added.
People’s Mining Act
The environment group Panalipdan, which has been actively campaigning for the People’s Mining Act, said declaring Minahang Bayan in small-scale mining areas would have been the government’s “highest form of response, not only in addressing the people’s need for livelihood, but also as an expression of people’s control over the country’s mineral resources.”
Arreza said he expected more protests to occur, considering that of the 19 gold rush areas where small-scale mining operates, only three Minahang Bayan areas had been segregated. Even in doing so, the bureau has earned the ire of large mining firms.
Officials of Compostela Valley said they were facing a problem as to how to deal with areas declared off limits to mining but already being occupied by small-scale miners.
Mining in Mainit
Governor Uy said EO 79 would provide urgency for the local government and the MGB to solve the “big” problem of mining operations near a national park in Barangay Mainit in the provincial capital of Nabunturan.
Mining activities in the village have been going on since the 1980s, and local officials have not been able to control the influx of people to the area.
Under EO 79, Compostela Valley is among the 78 areas declared no-mining zones. Somehow, that is “a gray area,” according to Uy.
“I don’t think the entire province would be under that mining ban because if that would be the case, what would happen now to the thousands of people making a living in our mining areas?” he said.
The provincial government, under a local ordinance in 2008, declared seven communities as “Minahang Bayan.” These include parts of Mainit; Barangays Panoraon, Tandik and New Leyte in Maco town; and Diat, Boringot and Biasong in Pantukan.
The governor said the communities were declared in conformity with Republic Act No. 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, a law that has been made a basis by the new EO in regulating small-scale mining activities.
The more known Mount Diwalwal, a 729-hectare village in Monkayo town, is not included in the locally declared Minahang Bayan, Uy said. With a report from Frinston L. Lim
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