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Gov’t to clip LGUs’ power to grant mining permits

The national government is set to clip the powers of local government units (LGUs) to grant mining permits to small-scale miners as environment officials on Thursday said they have been given definitive authority over small-scale mining operations.

The officials cited a justice department opinion that small-scale mining should be governed by Republic Act No. 7076, or the People’s Small-Scale Mining of 1992, and not by Presidential Decree No. 1899 issued by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion, which said that RA 7076 had repealed the presidential decree, gives the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the power to make changes in the issuance and operations of small-scale miners, according to Leo Jasareno, chief of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

PD 1899, called “Establishing Small-scale Mining as a New Dimension in Mineral Development,” empowers provincial governors to unilaterally approve such permits.

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This is in conflict with RA 7076, which mandates stringent rules for mining companies and places them under national government monitoring.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the DOJ opinion, which was issued two weeks ago made it clear that local and provincial executives do not have the sole power to issue operation permits for small mines.

Jasareno said his agency was now drafting the guidelines to streamline the issuance of permits.

Under the current set-up, small-scale miners only have to go to the local or provincial government for a mining permit.

Small-scale mining has become a source of income for local governments after they were given jurisdiction over their operations. However, PD 1899 has been abused over the years, said Jasareno.

He said small-scale miners often ignore environmental and safety laws, which lead to disasters like landslides and accidents.

Under the new rules, those who want to engage in mining should form a cooperative first. They are then required to petition the MGB to declare an area a “Minahang Bayan,” which will put the area under national government monitoring, Jasareno said.

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“They can no longer mine just anywhere,” he said.

Each contractor will have a maximum of 20 hectares in the mining area. The cooperative will also have a production-sharing agreement with the government, which will put up a custom mill or central processing plant in the small-scale mining area.

The cooperative can only sign a contract with the local government once the MGB declares the area as a Minahang Bayan. But the local government will continue to receive revenues from the mine.

Jasareno said the measure aims to compel small-scale miners to follow safety and environmental regulations. It will also reduce the number of illegal miners operating in the country, he said.

“This will make it easier for us to monitor them. Maybe this will also lessen the number of illegal miners,” he added.

According to Jasareno, virtually all provinces in the country have illegal miners.

But although the work is dangerous and the pay is low for small-scale miners, the DENR is not about to put a stop to small-scale mining.

The department said small-scale mining is vital to the mining industry, being responsible for about 70 percent of the gold mined in the country. The quarrying of gravel and sand is also done by pocket miners.

According to Jasareno, there are 2,000 to 3,000 companies with small-scale mining permits nationwide, providing employment in remote areas.

The environment department has been seeking to streamline and regulate small-scale mining after a series of landslides killed miners in Compostela Valley in Mindanao early this year. A landslide brought on by heavy rains killed eight people in the gold mining community of Panganason in Barangay Kingking, forcing the evacuation of residents in nearby communities.

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, local government units (LGUs), mining permits, People’s Small-Scale Mining of 1992, Presidential Decree No. 1899, Republic Act No. 7076
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