Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez plans to employ an iron-hand policy in going after illegal mining and is eyeing a “commando group for the environment” against erring miners.
“I am putting up a SWAT team to go after those engaged in illegal mining activities and will work with the military and the police,” Lopez said in a text message to reporters.
SWAT or Special Weapons And Tactics is a law enforcement unit that uses specialized or military equipment and tactics.
SWAT teams or paramilitary police units (PPUs) are trained to deal with terrorism, crowd control and high-risk situations beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement.
The Cabinet official said she has the support of Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya and the chief of the Philippine National Police, Director General Ronald de la Rosa, in fighting illegal mining activities.
“We are good. Digong [President Rodrigo Duterte] has amazing [and]good people. So I am very, very confident. Rule of law, that’s all. And the common good,” Lopez added.
She said she was open to reactivating the committee once led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a crackdown on illegal mining, particularly black sand extraction.
“It’s a great idea,” Lopez noted but said she is yet to discuss with Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno the fact-finding committee that was created by Joint Department Order No. 02-2012.
Jasareno earlier said he would ask the DOJ to reenlist the group to address the issue of illegal mining raised by Lopez during their previous meetings.
“I will recommend to the DOJ to reactivate the committee to investigate, build cases and file charges against those engaged in illegal mining,” he added.
Formed to stop the illegal extraction of magnetite sand or black sand that was mostly happening in Northern Luzon, the committee was formed in November 2012.
The DOJ, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) formed the fact-finding committee as instructed by then President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
It was composed of officials, lawyers, investigators and prosecutors from the three departments and other agencies.
The committee became “inactive” after a campaign against illegal magnetite sand extraction in the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions.
An illegal mining operation does not have government permits covering the exploration, extraction, transport and export of minerals.
Jasareno noted that the transportation and export of mineral ores without a permit is a crime under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
The MGB chief said the government is beefing up the campaign against illegal mining, particularly in the small-scale sector, which is equally liable for causing environmental destruction and pollution.
The bureau is eyeing the establishment of four additional Minahang Bayan small-scale mining areas this year in addition to the current five, and will soon submit a recommendation to Lopez.
Small-scale mining activities outside a Minahang Bayan are illegal under Executive Order 79.
James Konstantin Galvez