Cimatu orders fast-tracking of minahang bayan in Benguet

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) in Benguet to fast-track the declaration of a minahang bayan for use by small-scale miners in the province.

“I am directing the PMRB in Benguet to convene immediately for the declaration of a minahang bayan for our miners,” Cimatu told members of a small-scale miners association in Itogon town during their recent dialogue.

The PMRB is chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), represented by Director Fay Apil of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR).

Cimatu issued the statement as he politely turned down the petition by miners and gold panners to lift his order stopping all small-scale mining activities in the region following a landslide that killed dozens of small-scale miners in Itogon at the height of super typhoon Ompong last month.

The DENR chief said the suspension order remains in effect until a minahang bayan is declared and once it is already safe for mining operations to resume, particularly within the Benguet Corp. patented area in Sitio Luneta in Barangay Loakan.

Public safety is the government’s top priority, he said.

Cimatu likewise assured those who attended the dialogue that they would retain their rightful claim to the mineral resources in the area even with the suspension order.

“Minero kayo noon, minero pa rin kayo ngayon, at mga minero pa rin kayo sa mga susunod na panahon,” he said, explaining that the declaration of the minahang bayan was their only legal option in continuing their activities.

Minahang bayan refers to a common area where small-scale miners are permitted.

Cimatu reported that the processing of the application for a minahang bayan in Itogon was already underway.

He then advised the petitioners to abide by the suspension order and make sure their requirements are complete.

At the same time, Cimatu welcomed the commitment of the mining community to comply with all regulatory measures to be imposed by the different government offices to ensure their smooth operations.

The Itogon mining community had also committed to enter into a stewardship agreement in relation to reforestation and environmental protection and rehabilitation.

“Thank you for your benevolent offer, and I readily accept it,” he said, after reading a portion of the petition signed by the miners.

The environment chief also cited the commitment made by the miners to sell their gold to the Central Bank even as he urged them to pay the right taxes from their income.

During the dialogue, geologist Liza Manzano of the MGB presented the findings of the geohazard and technical assessment of the Itogon landslide that left 89 persons dead and 8 others missing.

Manzano characterized the area as highly vulnerable and likened it to a “shopping mall to all kinds of catastrophes” because of its susceptibility to all kinds of geological hazard.

“You’ve got it all,” she said, describing the danger of inhabiting the devastated mine sites in Itogon.

Adits and processing plants in Itogon have remained closed or cordoned off and shall remain unutilized, along with stockpiled mineral ore inventoried by the National Task Force Mining Challenge, unless permitted by the PMRB.

Republic Act 7076, also known as the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, gives the PMRB the authority to, among others, formulate and implement rules and regulations related to small-scale mining.

The minahang bayan was made possible by Executive Order No. 79 where small-scale miners are limited to areas declared as minahang bayan.

The DENR is eyeing two areas in CAR as minahang bayan reservations to help small scale-miners operate safely and earn a livelihood. ### 

DENR clarifies prohibitions in Boracay

Tourists may still enjoy parties, grilling and other beach activities in Boracay provided these are done indoor or in areas away from the shore, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

DENR Undersecretaries Sherwin Rigor and Benny Antiporda clarified that the several prohibitions proposed as policies for the reopening of the world-famous resort island will be imposed only in beachfront areas.

Rigor said the prohibitions on certain activities and structures were meant to protect the shore and maintain the pristine quality of the sand, which is Boracay’s top selling feature.

Among those prohibited are the construction of stage platform for entertainment purposes and setting up of tables, chairs, massage beds, beach umbrellas, souvenir shops and food stalls.

Electrical fixtures, such as lightings and wirings, will also be removed and prohibited from the beachfront vegetation area.

“These structures will be banned at all times within the 25+5 easement area, which is a ‘no-build zone’, and within the beach vegetation area,” Rigor told a press conference held at Casa Pilar.

These prohibitions, he said, would apply to White Beach Stations 1, 2 and 3, as well as Puka, Ilig-Iligan, and Bulabog beaches.

Antiporda, meanwhile, disputed an item in an infographic called “New Boracay Dos and Don’ts” circulating online, which states that grilling of meats would be prohibited.

“This is not true. The task force does not prohibit such,” Antiporda said, referring to the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force headed by DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.

“Pwede pa rin pong mag-ihaw, but not along the beachfront,” he added.

The task force is also looking into setting up designated zones where ambulant vendors can sell their goods instead of approaching and possibly disturbing tourists.

Another measure that has been proposed is the banning of parties at the beachfront and within the easement area without valid permits for the holding of special events.

To avoid noise pollution, Rigor said commercial establishments like bars and restaurants will also be encouraged to adopt noise or music insulation systems.

The DENR official added that part of the rehabilitation of the beach ecosystem was to require establishments to obtain permits to plant balled coconut palms and other endemic species along the beach fronting their respective properties.

Likewise, Antiporda clarified that water sports, paraw-sailing and other related activities are only temporarily suspended while the government, led by the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau, and partner organizations are conducting an assessment of the marine ecosystems in Boracay.

Antiporda said the DENR is expecting the results of the assessment before the opening on October 26. ### 

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