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MGB vows to stop illegal mining operations in Bicol

LEGAZPI CITYThe Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Bicol regional office here has renewed its vow to stop all illegal mining operations in the region.

Engr. Guillermo A. Molina IV, MGB Bicol regional director, on Monday said the renewed campaign is inspired by a recent order carried in a memorandum circular (MC) issued by MGB National Director Leo Jasareno which establishes the basic procedure in addressing illegal mining operations not only in Bicol but also all over the country.

The order, which is seen to effect a comprehensive and concrete set of actions to address the persistent illegal mining operations in the country, prescribes a standard and systematic set of actions to be undertaken -- from the conduct of ocular investigations to the filing of formal complaints against the perpetrators, Molina said.

“To effectively implement the government’s campaign against illegal mining operations, basic procedure shall be strictly observed by every regional office of this bureau,” Molina said in the order.

The procedure starts from the conduct of ocular investigation, followed by the issuance of a cease-and- desist order, deputation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and/or other concerned law enforcement agencies, seizure of illegally sourced mineral/mineral products as well as the tools, equipment and conveyances used in mining operations and dismantling of facilities used.

These procedure shall lead to the immediate filing of formal complaints in the court against those involved in the illegal act, he added.

The MGB Bicol head said he has already met with Chief Supt. Augusto M. Marquez Jr., PNP Bicol regional director, who assured him of assistance in the implementation of the MGB's fight against illegal mining in the region.

Since time immemorial, Molina said, small miners in some mineral-rich provinces of Bicol have been working on mineral deposits for a hand-to-mouth subsistence but since local governments have not established a Minahang Bayan, all these workers, under existing laws operate illegally while braving the penalty of imprisonment from six months to six years as provided under the law.

Defined as the people’s small-scale mining areas, Minahang Bayan is a suitable on-shore site identified by a particular local government unit (city or provincial) for small-scale miners organized into a cooperative that could operate under the monitoring of the MGB.

It is established as a government-designated and regulated area, to bring small-scale miners away from danger zones, concessions already delineated for large-scale operation and prohibited sites such as government reservations and protected areas and those that are assigned to tourism activities and agrarian reform programs, among others.

This means that small-scale miners cannot operate just anywhere, Molina explained.

It is also a government measure to regulate small-scale mining activities that were blamed for dumping mercury and cyanide to the waterways and the underground.

Small-scale mining, as defined under Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, refers to mining activities which rely heavily on manual labor using simple implements and methods and do not use explosives or heavy mining equipment and requires only a small capital investment.

Small-scale miners, on the other hand, according to RA 7076, are Filipino citizens who voluntarily form a cooperative duly licensed by the DENR to engage, under the terms and conditions of a contract or license in the extraction or removal of minerals or ore-bearing materials from the ground.

While it is very clear that only Filipino small-scale miners, organized as a cooperative, can operate in a Minahang Bayan, a limitation, however, was set forth by the same law that they can only mine gold, silver, chromites, kaolin, silica, marble, gravel and sand and clay in an identified mineralized area, Molina said.

Each of the six provinces in Bicol covers a territory that is rich in mineral resources mineable through small-scale operations that could provide lowly miners a good source of income.

Albay, the province that plays host to majestic Mt. Mayon, is rich in precious metallic minerals such as gold and silver and endowed with abundant non-metallic deposits like boulder, earth fill, black and white sand, gravel, aggregates, selected stones, marble and shale clay.

Gold and silver are also widely available in Camarines Norte in addition to diatomaceous earth, white clay, kaolin clay and silica sand while Camarines Sur is known for chromites, ball clay, decorative stone and earth fill.

Both Camarines provinces, as well as Catanduanes and Sorsogon, have sand and gravel while Masbate boasts of huge deposits of gold and silver, boulders, earth fill and also sand and gravel.

Establishing a Minahang Bayan is an effort to give importance to small-scale mining that is responsible for about 70 percent of the gold mined in the country, Molina said.

All these provinces should create and reconstitute their own Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) which under RA 7076 is tasked to implement the policy of the state to promote, develop, protect and rationalize viable small-scale mining activities in order to generate more employment opportunities and provide an equitable sharing of the nation’s wealth and natural resources.

Molina said his office has since been coordinating with chief executives of the six Bicol provinces for the creation and reorganization of PMRB, including the establishment of Minahang Bayan in each province to end illegal small-scale mining operations.

For Camarines Norte, he said, his office is validating two prospective areas in the municipalities of Paracale and Jose Panganiban of Camarines Norte based on petitions for the establishments of Minahang Bayan sites made by the provincial and municipal governments.

These areas, he said, cover 174 hectares of gold panning sites in three barangays of Jose Panganiban and two mineralized properties totaling 40 hectares in a Paracale village.

The MGB Bicol head explained that under the new rules, only the PMRB can identify and determine an area within its jurisdiction that is suitable for small-scale mining operations subject to the review of the DENR secretary through the regional director which will put it under national government monitoring. (PNA)

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