Issue of February 18, 2018
Mt. Province

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TF blasts illegal SSM tunnels at PMA
by Ofelia C. Empian & Rimaliza A. Opiña

CRACKDOWN BEGINS -- Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu led the blasting of the main entrance of 18 small-scale mining tunnels within the Philippine Military Academy forest reservation last week. -- Ofelia Empian

It was literally an explosive Valentine’s Day when members of the newly created National Task Force-Mining Challenge (NTF-MC) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources led by Secretary Roy Cimatu blasted 18 small-scale mining tunnels in Barangay Kias, Baguio City last week.

The mining tunnels, which are near the Philippine Military Academy forest reserve, were simultaneously blasted which marked the launching of the NTF-MC that aims to go after illegal mining activities in the country.

Cimatu, a retired military chief, said the task force should strengthen the enforcement arm of the DENR, which he acknowledges as the weakest branch of the agency.

“I am contemplating of making this task force to make it a full-time bureau. One of the weakest branches or groups of the DENR is enforcement. We got the laws we are mandated to implement, pero kapag enforcement ng laws, we don’t have enough capability. Our only capability is through filing of cases,” he said.

The secretary acknowledged the need for regulation of the mining industry, not only for the protection of the environment but also for the protection of miners, particularly those in the small-scale industry.

“I understand that this is their livelihood but we have to implement the law. It hurts but it is the law,” Cimatu said.

He cited instances of trapped miners due to the caving in of the tunnels, some of which were unreported to authorities for fear of those tunnels being discovered. 

He added that the extensive use of cyanide and other unregulated chemicals among small-scale miners is harmful to their health and the environment.

This would all be prevented if all illegal miners would pursue the establishment of a minahang bayan in their respective areas. Not one minahang bayan has been approved in the Cordillera.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Cordillera head Fay Apil said most of the minahang bayan applications cannot be forwarded to the central office due to lack of requirements such as consent of the reservee (for reservations), consent of the mining companies (if there are prior mining rights), and request of land owners (if the surface is privately owned).

She said the most difficult of all is obtaining the Free Prior and Informed Consent to be cleared by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

She said there are 79 pending applications for minahang bayan in the whole Cordillera with 30 in Benguet, four in Baguio City, and another four in Mountain Province, among other provinces. 

Prior to the task force launching on Feb. 14, the DENR and the Armed Forces of the Philippines implemented crackdown on illegal miners along the outskirts of the PMA in Kias on Feb. 10.

Five teams inspected mining tunnels and other mining paraphernalia in the area. A total of 53 tunnels, 34 drums for cyanide (both empty and full), and more than 2,000 kilos of ore were confiscated from Cab-owan, Last Creek, Paltekan 1 and Paltekan 2, and Demo area.

Cimatu said the crackdown will also be implemented in the various mining areas in the country.

Meanwhile, DENR Usec. Ernesto Adobo Jr. said the crackdown is also in compliance with the directive of the President to shut down all illegal mines, as well as to “limit the channeling of money from the mines to insurgents.”

“Today and henceforth we will not allow further destruction to the environment. The task force is making a statement to the entire country. Give us a chance. The task force will be tough, aggressive, but fair,” said Adobo said.

The task force has to formulate plans of action to address illegal mining, identify illegal mining hotspots; initiate with regional offices of the DENR enforcement of environmental laws; confiscate all minerals, equipment, conveyances, and all materials used for illegal mining; and file criminal and administrative charges against the operators and personnel of illegal mines.

The task force is also authorized to issue subpoenas to support their investigation.

Other partner agencies of the task force are the Bureau of Customs and the Philippines Coast Guard.

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