June 23, 2024

An open letter to Itogon officials and MGB

We, the affected parties, would like to voice out our sentiments regarding our barely started small-scale mine operation located at Sitio Besil, Barangay Gumatdang, Itogon, Benguet, which was ordered stopped by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The place of our SSM operation is around 300 meters away from the dead-end of the road. Before reaching our place, small-scale mines are visible from Sitio Minac going down to Gumatdang.
Before the stoppage order from the DENR, barangay officials of Gumatdang came and told us that there was a supposed complaint that we must stop our operation because we are affecting the health of the community, aside from allegations that we are blocking the river with our wastes, and that we are decreasing the volume of potable water in the community.
They also informed us that we can proceed with our operation provided that we comply with regulations and other related laws, which we did. A ranking barangay official has inspected the site and claimed we have complied with government requirements.
But last June 9, we are dumbfounded because a team composed of MGB, Itogon officials, uniformed policemen and officials of Gumatdang came and said there is again a complaint regarding our small-scale mining activity which needs to be stopped.
They produced a pre-signed stoppage order and wrote the names of the head of the family and ordered that our operation be stopped.
We complied by voluntarily piling rocks at the mouth of mine portal and we never resumed operation up to the present.
Last Aug. 7, a group of 10 uniformed personnel came and inspected the area saying that there is a complaint that we are still operating but we proved them wrong.
Last Aug. 11, a team again composed of the MGB, municipal and barangay officials, and police officers came to inform us of another supposed complaint that we resumed operation and that we are allegedly using explosives.
We requested for a copy of the supposed complaint but to no avail.
In light of these events, we would like to raise our concerns, as we feel we are being singled out and there is supposed favoritism in the operation of SSM in the area.
Here are our concerns:
First, the area where we operate is a titled property owned by our family. Don’t we have the right to use our land considering that Itogon is a mining area and more or less half of the population are small-scale miners?
Second, we earnestly request the concerned offices and agencies to furnish as with copies of the supposed complaints. Up to now, we have not received any letter or written complaint from the barangay or municipal governments.
Third, we request the barangay officials concerned to call the attention of supposed complainants for a possible mediation at the barangay level. In our case, we were informed that the supposed complainants are afraid to meet us for possible dialogue.
Fourth, when the concerned officials and authorities received the supposed complaints, are we also not entitled to voice out our side of the story to prove that our operation is legal?
Fifth, when MGB representatives came and issued the stoppage order, it appears they failed to observe that other portals and ball mills are also visible on their way to our place.
We hope that due process is extended to all individuals or groups engage in small-scale mining operation in the municipality. — REBECCA BAYACSAN LEBENG, WILLIAM APADCHEW, APOLLO APADCHEW, LINDO ROMERO, Itogon, Benguet