Legalize small-scale mining, labor exec, environmental group urge
Amid a government crackdown on mining, a contentious proposal has arisen: The formalization of small-scale mining.
This was the call made by nongovernment environmental organization Ban Toxics and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), as they launched on Thursday the CaringGold program, a three-year strategy to eliminate child labor in small-scale mine sites.
The program, funded by the US Department of Labor, and to be implemented in cooperation with the International Labour Organization, will support the setting up of “Minahang Bayan” areas compliant with government regulations on environment, health, and labor. It will be piloted in Camarines Norte.
CaringGold was one of three government programs launched on Friday by the DSWD, the DOLE, the International Labour Organization and Ban Toxics, in a bid to eliminate the worst forms of child labor by 2025, and to withdraw a million children from child labor from 2017 to 2022.
Workers in small-scale mining reach around 350,000 in the Philippines, 18,000 are women and children, said Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglungsod, at the program’s launch at the DOLE-Occupational Safety and Health Center in Quezon City on Thursday.
“We can regulate that, but what is important is that the community organizes [through the] Minahang Bayan,” Maglungsod said in Filipino.
“Small-scale mining is considered illegal. Let us study legalizing them … Once they are legalized, then the [government] inspections can come in to implement our labor standards,” Maglungsod said. “In mining, there are no safety standards. This is what we want to [address].”
Ban Toxics CEO Richard Gutierrez urged the same tact: “A simple change in attitude by our government colleagues, by everyone, with regard to these small-scale miners is very important. We need to stop vilifying them. We need to understand where they’re coming from and why they’re doing what they do. It’s not enough to tell them, ‘You’re bad.’ We need to understand because at the end of the day, the victims are not the parents, the victims are the children,” Gutierrez said.
“What CaringGold wants to achieve is to formalize our small-scale miners. But part of the incentive is we bring the sector into formal [recognition]. Aside from organizing, [we should] help the sector formalize. Help them be part of the formal sector so they can be properly regulated but also so they can enjoy the benefits of our society,” Gutierrez said.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Gutierrez said to reconcile the project with a crackdown by the environment department on mining, the government needs to touch base with those at the grassroots.
“The existing administration needs to have a dialogue with the communities. Having a situation where you’re saying 350,000 to half a million Filipinos are illegal is a train wreck you’re just going to watch. They’re living in dire poverty, and they’re being told ‘You’re out of a job.’ So what do we do for them?” Gutierrez said.
“Unless there’s something on the ground for them, what will happen is just a continuation of the exploitation which can be worse. We have seen this time and again in other countries. The intention is there to address the situation, but what we’ve seen in outright bans results to an increase in illegality. What the current administration needs to look at is a nuanced approach to the problem,” he said.