THE country’s biggest mining lobby. the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), on Wednesday welcomed the Office of the Ombudsman’s vow to crack down on illegal mines around the country.
“It is not enough that we are legal. We must primarily be responsible miners. The Chamber has always called for stricter measures in going against illegal miners as these are the ones who do not contribute to the economy of the country and do the most damage to the environment,” COMP VP for Legal and Policy Ronald Recidoro said Wednesday.
Earlier, Environmental Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera assured that after focusing on closing illegal dumpsites, the Office of the Ombudsman is also setting its sights on moving against illegal mining, logging and fishing activities.
Mosquera said the Office of the Ombudsman will coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in going after these illegal miners.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales also stressed the need for government to address “environmental degradation by enterprising individuals.”
“Members of the Chamber are covered by a strict edict to safeguard our people, the country’s interests and the environment. We will continue to adhere to the tenets of responsible mining and support efforts of government to weed out the irresponsible miners who conduct their business without regard for the law,” Recidoro stressed.
The Mining Act of 1995 provides “mining activities must always be guided by current best practices in environmental management committed to reducing the impacts of mining while efficiently and effectively protecting the environment.”
The mining industry remains the biggest contributor to the National Greening Program of government with 20 million trees planted from 2011 to 2014.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) data show that the mining industry’s contribution to reforestation efforts in the country has already covered an estimated 48,000 hectares.
The DENR earlier ordered the cessation of all small-scale mining operations, effectively halting 60 percent of gold production in the country.
Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez said that all small-scale mining activities operating outside the so-called Minahang Bayan are illegal in nature and should stop immediately or face the full force of the law.
To date, the DENR has yet to announce the number of small-scale mining operations that have been shut down.
All small-scale mining activities are illegal under the DENR’s revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 7076, or the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991.
The DENR issued the revised IRR of the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 in April last year. Under Department Administrative Order 03-2015, the revised IRR institutionalized and implemented reforms in the Philippine mining sector, and provides policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources – including the declaration of a Minahang Bayan.
A Minahang Bayan centralizes processing of minerals within a zone where the government will be able to monitor gold production by small-scale miners better.
The major features of the revised IRR include provisions on additional areas that may be declared as “Minahang Bayan,” confinement of engineered mineral processing activities with tailings disposal system within mineral processing zones, and the imposition of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Assessment covering each Minahang Bayan.
At present, there are only three existing Minahang Bayan nationwide with 10 new applications pending for approval by the MGB.
There are about 300,000 to 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide, majority of which operates outside the Minahang Bayan.
Officials of the DENR and MGB suspect small-scale miners are selling their gold produce to the black market to avoid paying taxes to the government, which resulted in a steep drop in annual gold purchases by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) since 2011.