Wednesday, 1 August 2012

COMMENTARY – Days of ‘milking cow’ mining rights claims are over


A “MINAHANG BAYAN” is hoped to be declared sooner or later in Mambulao.

And the good news is that our municipality’s gold and iron deposits have been freed for good from the clutches of idle or undeveloped mining claims held by unscrupulous individuals.

Section 3 of Executive Order No. 79 signed by President Noynoy Aquino early last month, provides the “Review of the performance of existing mining operations and cleansing of non-moving mining rights holders”.

The provision aims to “rationalize the management and utilization of minerals towards sustainable development”.

There are certain mining claims covering vast areas of iron and gold deposits in the municipality of Mambulao, which have remained undeveloped by the claimants.

On the other hand, the lone and only Filipino-owned gold mine in the Philippines, the Johson Gold Mining Corporation (JGMC), actively operates at least four mining claims in the municipality.

The other known claimant is the Investwell, which intends to operate the iron ore deposits in Larap.

It has now set up its mine camp in the area and has posted armed security guards to prevent trespassers and would-be individual iron miners into their property.

The private individual mining claims holders of gold areas, for instance, have not developed their claims into sustainable operations, and instead, made it their milking cow, drawing hefty royalties from small-scale gold operators who extracted gold ore and dirt from the mine site.

While such operations go on, a lot of bad things happened that saw the degradation of the immediate mine site environment, apparently due to non-supervision of concerned government agencies – from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)

A “Minahang Bayan”, which will be an offshoot from the so-called municipal “Mineral Reservation” to be established soon in Mambulao -- being a host to known strategic reserves and resources such as gold and iron - will effectively banish idle mining claims holders from the picture.

It is well known in Mambulao that idle gold mining claims are not confined in one area but scattered all over the municipality, where illegal and indiscriminate gold operations take place.

But Republic Act 7076 will finally put an end to this anomaly, and allow new potential investors to enter the area and develop the resources as envisioned by the order, hoped to generate more mining revenues for the national government.

The Department of Justice recently ruled that “all small-scale mining can only happen or occur inside “Minahang Bayan”.

Reacting to this, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said: “We have to contain them (miners) in one place so that we can contain the wastes and we can treat them properly.”

He said the provision will allow the department to put one tailings’ pond for “Minahang Bayan’ and that they can treat the wastes efficiently”.

Under the present set up of “royalty” scheme practiced by gold operators in Mambulao, mine wastes are disposed off in creeks and water tributaries that lead to Mambulao Bay as there is no pond to contain the tailings.

One benefit of the “Minahang Bayan” program to the environment is the ban on mercury in gold recovery.

Mercury is one vital chemical used to extract gold from the dirt – whether it is done in the mines or right inside the home of a goldsmith processing the gold.

The Department of Health has warned that when inhaled in its vapor form, Mercury stays in the lungs, which later could be a cause of one form of lung ailment that results to cancer.

Right now, the JPLGU is crossing its fingers that establishing a Mineral Reservation in Mambulao would come as a matter of course.

Likewise, it is also looking at added revenues through the LGUs share of royalties.

While the mechanics of the Mineral Reservations are still being drawn out, Mayor Ricarte Padilla’s office has already pitched the idea to influential lawmakers such as Senate president Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Congressman Renato J Unico to give his government the authority to manage “our vast iron and gold deposits”.

Padilla said this could lead to the setting up of an integrated steel industry to be situated at the 30ha Economic Zone at Baranggay Larap.

All the while, gravely concern over the improper use of mining claims, the local government earlier batted for the cancellation of all unused mining claims in the municipality.

This has been realized under EO79.

And it’s only a matter of time when the operations at Mambulao’s gold district would certainly be put in order and made our bays, water tributaries and air -- far and near -- effectively protected.

That is free of mercury and safe from mining pollution.

And no more greedy holders of mining claims who lord it over our community’s gold district.

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