The Federation of the Small-Scale Miners in Benguet last week has refrained from fully endorsing President Aquino’s Executive Order 79 that sought to implement reforms to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining.
“We welcome this new law but we cannot say we are exactly thrilled,” said Engr. Lomino Kaniteng, president of the Federation of Small-Scale Mining Associations of Benguet.
The federation is comprised of 70 mining associations with 30,000 members spread out in nine of the 13 towns of Benguet, with the exception of La Trinidad, Sablan, Buguias, and Kapangan.
He said while the federation welcomes legalization, only seven of its member-associations are legal. “The rest have no permits since they are operating in areas that are patented since the American period or in areas under the mining claims of companies.”
The federation said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should cleanse the list of mining claims and open “non-moving mining rights” to small scale mining, adding that some of the claims were inactive or merely speculating.
Benguet Vice Gov. Crescencio Pacalso said the practice appeared to have evolved from the gold rush in California when claims were staked, even in areas where small-scale mining existed.
Kaniteng said the preponderance of mining claims poses a barrier to the implementation of the minahang bayan concept that the government is pushing for small-scale mining. “As of now, we have only one minahang bayan in Bakun and it has not been operating yet because it has no go-signal,” he said.
Kaniteng said the executive order has deprived the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board the power to issue mining contracts, transferring this power all the way up to the DENR secretary.
He said the order is also unclear on how small-scale miners would be taxed, adding that the current practice of taxing production by imposing seven percent excise tax has worked to the disadvantage of small-scale miners.
“In turn, the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s collection has dipped because gold buyers tended to sell their products to the black market,” he said.
Kaniteng said a lot depends on the release of implementing rules and regulations of the executive order.
“But until then, it needs a lot of political will on the part of the DENR to implement the executive order,” he said.
Engr. Guillermo Padsoyan, vice president of the federation, said the executive order appears to favor large-scale mining at first glance since it appears “to affect the interest” of small-scale miners.