BAGUIO CITY – The government should put up an insurance system for pocket miners, such as a small-scale miners protection fund, to prevent their financiers and the black market from taking advantage of their difficult situation, a former government official said here.
During a recent mining conference in the city, Edwin Domingo, former Deputy Director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), stated that the existence of the insurance fund will allow the pocket miners to be secured of their income instead of relying on their financiers and the black market to provide them the needed resources in difficult times.
He narrated that when a pocket miner runs out of money, he looks for anyone willing to buy his ‘bahay,’ their term for gold, which is the size of the head of a match stick, regardless of the price that is going to be offered, thus, depriving them the benefits for pocket miners.
Based on the data from the National Coalition of Small-Scale Miners of the Philippines, over 500,000 pocket miners make a living from pocket mines around the country.
Numerous small-scale mines existed around the country since the 1970s and early 1980s when world metal prices significantly increased to a high of $800 an ounce and pocket miners learned to extract gold from rocks using the carbon and pulp technique, also referred to as gold cyanidation.
Domingo proposed that it is high time for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to come up with better incentives and regulations to help pocket miners improve their present conditions as the majority of them have not been able to earn enough to graduate from the trade despite the risk of digging through small tunnels in the different parts of the country.
He claimed that Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga should start overhauling the agency’s policies governing the operation of pocket mines so that the sector will be able to maximize the protection from the said regulations.
However, the small-scale mining sector should also shoulder the blame for toxic mine waste that have been polluting waterways because a number of unlicensed operations are situated in remote areas that could not be properly regulated and monitored by the concerned government agencies and local governments.
Further, some pocket mining operators have reportedly been using mercury to dissolve rock ore containing gold, as per previous studies by experts.
The former MGB official pointed out that Republic Act (RA) 7076 or the Peoples Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 and various provincial ordinances were enacted to legitimize micro, and small to medium enterprises in the mining industry but this did not work for the pocket mining sector.
Moreover, the law established the Minahang Bayan which are said to be exclusive zones for licensed pocket minors, whether artisanal or small-scale operations that use heavy equipment.
Ironically, Domingo said that after 31 years, the government only declared 49 Minahang Bayan areas around the country.
Domingo was one of the presenters of a technical paper during the Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference (ANMSEC) that was spearheaded by the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA).
He disclosed that securing permits for Minahang Bayan sites is reportedly too complicated and expensive that is why instead of having to wait for applicants for the declaration of Minahang Bayan areas, MGB should explore and identify future areas that could be declared as such to guide applicants on the appropriate steps to undertake.
According to him, what is happening now is that the government declares areas already occupied by miners as Minahang Bayan aggravated by the fact that applicants should first secure the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous peoples owning the ancestral domain covered by the application for Minahang Bayan.
Domingo suggested the put up of custom mills to reduce or eliminate mine pollution from the conduct of small-scale mining operations in the different parts of the country.
He emphasized that the proposed mills will serve as a convergence point for pocket miners who want to trade their gold in the buying stations that will be established by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
Domingo revealed that the financiers of the small-scale miners and the black market take a huge portion of the revenues supposedly due to the miners in most instances.
In the Cordillera, gold mining is a traditional industry of indigenous peoples where they had been panning gold in river systems since time in memorial until the beginning of commercial mining during the American regime.
Benguet is home to the country’s pioneer mines starting with the first corporate mine, Benguet Corporation which was established in 1903, and then Sangilo mine, now the Itogon Suyoc Resources, Inc. (ISRI), a subsidiary of the Davao-based Apex Mining Company (AMCI), which was established in 1924.