Antamok open pit mine tapped for ‘Minahang Bayan’ in Benguet
BAGUIO CITY—Environment Secretary Gina Lopez tapped the Antamok open pit mine in Itogon town on Friday as the pilot area for Benguet province’s first Minahang Bayan (small-scale mining area), a day after she announced the shutdown of 23 mines in the country.
Meeting with miners of Barangay Loacan in Itogon, Lopez said the communities surrounding the open pit mine thrived solely on small-scale mining.
The mine used to form part of the grand Antamok project of Benguet Corp., the country’s first and oldest mining firm.
Lawyer Froilan Lawilao, head of administration of Benguet Corp.’s operations in Itogon, said converting a portion of the Antamok mine into a Minahang Bayan was part of the company’s mine rehabilitation plan.
He said the company intended to have the Minahang Bayan share the area with an engineered sanitary landfill where it proposed to put up a waste-to-energy facility.
“We have submitted our mine rehabilitation plan before the secretary’s pronouncement and we are waiting for the decision of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as to whether the plan was acceptable,” Lawilao said.
Lopez flew aboard a Philippine Air Force helicopter on Friday to inspect the Liang River, which was polluted with mine waste attributed to leaks from a tailing pond.
She later met with members of the Loakan-Itogon Pocket Miners Association and Antamok-Loakan Miners Association.
Vergel Aniceto of the Itogon Inter-Barangay Alliance said Lopez was “amazed that even farmers engaged in small-scale mining.”
Lomino Kaniteng, president of the Benguet Small-Scale Mining Federation, said Lopez’s only conditions were for the miners to create their own tailing pond and to work using traditional mining instruments.
He said several applications for Minahang Bayan in Benguet had been filed since 2004 but these had not been processed by government regulators.
In August last year, Lopez stopped all small-scale mining operations outside the designated Minahang Bayan. Only five Minahang Bayan sites operate in the provinces of Quezon, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental, Eastern Samar and Dinagat Island.
Fay Apil, MGB Cordillera director, said the agency had been instructed to process the Minahang Bayan application in Benguet.
She asked the applicants to secure the prior and informed consent of the indigenous community or their certification allowing the conversion of the area into a pocket mining site.
In 2004, a Minahang Bayan was proposed for Bakun town in Benguet but the application was never resolved by the provincial mining regulatory board.—REPORTS FROM VINCENT CABREZA AND KIMBERLIE QUITASOL
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