BAGUIO CITY — Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered a nationwide crackdown on illegal mining operations, starting with pocket mines at the outskirts of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) here.
The campaign against illegal mining would be formally launched on Feb. 14 but it was piloted on Saturday at PMA’s Fort Del Pilar by the National Task Force on Mining Challenge on Cimatu’s instructions, said retired Maj. Gen. Mario Chan, chief executive assistant at the office of the environment secretary.
Chan supervised the closing of at least 15 tunnels around PMA and confiscated equipment and ore taken from these areas.
He also deployed 200 men from the police, the military and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to five small-scale mining areas in the village of Kias near PMA grounds.
NPA financing source?
Chan said the government considered illegal mining a “big problem” because of allegations some operations in the provinces had been used to finance the New People’s Army (NPA).
But the Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners Inc. (BFSSMI) said that was not the case in the province where the first mines started.
None of the miners here have paid so-called “revolutionary taxes” to communist rebels, said BFSSMI president, Lomino Kaniteng.
He also said miners had applied for the establishment of a “Minahang Bayan” site but the government had not yet acted on it.
Former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez had identified an open pit mine in Itogon town as an appropriate site for Benguet’s first Minahang Bayan.
The tunnels and mills inspected and deactivated by the DENR task force were located at the base of the mountain where tributaries of the Bued River flow.
Task force members seized mining tools, containers filled with cyanide, metal carts and small conveyor belts. They also took samples from leachate ponds and hauled out extracted mineral ore.
Soldiers were sent to secure the mining tunnels and mills that were ordered closed by the government.
No miners were arrested during the operation. However, tension rose in one of the mining areas when residents from neighboring communities tried to discourage the task force from disrupting their livelihood.
Kaniteng said closing pocket mines in Benguet would bring hardship to small-scale miners who rely on the industry to feed their families.
“If we tell them to stop immediately, where will they get money to send their children to school and put food on the table?” he said.
BFSSMI has 23,000 members operating mine tunnels in seven towns with bigger concentrations in Itogon, Tuba and Mankayan which host large-scale mines.
During peak season, small-scale miners in Benguet produce an average of three tons of gold, Kaniteng said.
It was not clear, however, whether Cimatu’s order would also lead to closure of mines in Mount Diwalwal, where a gold rush has led to the rise of communities dependent on mining. —Karlston Lapniten
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