The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has ordered to stop all small-scale mining operations, the source of 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, noting that they should stop immediately or face full force of the law.
“We don’t need gold to live. It is not an essential thing for survival,” Lopez told reporters after signing the memorandum of agreement for the creation of a National Anti-Environmental Crimes Task Force.
Lopez was reacting to complaints by big mining lobby that she was more focused on large-scale mining and seemingly neglected the existence of illegal small-scale mining operations.
Meanwhile, DENR Undersecretary Leo Jasareno, announced the suspension of Ore Asia, the country’s only operating iron mine after failing to get an ISO certification and causing environmental damage to the waterways surrounding the mine.
Ore Asia, which is located in Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan, has an annual production of about 40,000 metric tons iron ore. Its output is mainly shipped overseas and to Eagle Cement in Bulacan.
“The company is the eighth mining operation to be suspended by the DENR this year. The first seven nickel mines suspended, represent 8 percent of the country’s total nickel production,” said Jasareno.
The former director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said the DENR expected to complete audit of big mining companies in the next two weeks, with Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co., Philex Mining Corp., OceanaGold Philippines, Philmineral Group Ltd. the first major players under audit.
Jasareno, the lead person in the ongoing audit of mines in the Philippines, echoed Lopez’s sentiment on small-scale mining activities, saying that all small-scale mining is illegal under the DENR’s revised implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 7076, or the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991.
The revised IRR aims to institutionalize and implement reforms in the Philippine mining sector, providing 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 the processing of minerals within a zone where the government can better monitor gold production by small-scale miners.
At present, there are three Minahang Bayan nationwide with 10 new applications pending before the Mines and Geoscience Bureau.
There are 300,000 to 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide, the majority of which operates outside the Minahang Bayan.
While the order maintains small-scale mining for all non-metallic minerals (such as quarry materials), small-scale mining operations are no longer be allowed to mine nickel and iron and metals other than gold, silver and chromite.
The order also states that small-scale mining contracts shall now be issued by the provincial/city mining regulatory board concerned, instead of the provincial governor or city mayor.
The other salient features of the DAO is the complete ban on the use of mercury, hydraulic and compressor mining; providing for centralized custom mills within a mineral processing zone inside a Minahang Bayan; and limiting the total term of a small-scale mining contract, including renewals, to a maximum of six years.
The order also allows the establishment of Minahang Bayan in areas covered by large-scale mining applications that have been denied but with pending appeals, provided that royalties are paid in escrow.
It also limits the qualified applicants of a small-scale mining contract to a cooperative or a group of small-scale miners; requires the contractors to pay the government share in the amount to be set by the board, on top of the payment of the usual taxes; and requires mineral processors to secure mineral processing licenses from the board.
The BSP has five buying stations in Quezon City, Baguio City, Davao City, Zamboanga City, and Naga City.