Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which is composed of some of the country’s biggest mining companies, welcomed the proposal of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to further regulate small-scale mining (SSM) activities in the Philippines.  

But, the group warned that allowing explosives in SSM areas, just like what MGB is planning, should be backed by stringent security measures and safety protocols.

“We welcome the government’s efforts to bring the entire SSM operations within the ambit of regulation. SSM has a role to play in the development of our country’s mineral resources as SSM provides income and employment to our countrymen,” Rocky Dimaculangan, vice president for corporate communications at COMP, said. 

“So long as stringent security measures and safety protocols are followed — in coordination with the government, the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], and the PNP [Philippine National Police] — the use of explosives in mining is safe and globally accepted,” he added.  

Under the current laws, the concept of SSM is artisanal, which, among other limitations, prohibits the use of heavy equipment and explosives.  

MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano said the plan is to amend Republic Act (RA) 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act to expand the definition of SSM activities in the country. 

In the proposed amendment, he said SSM should now have two definitions, one of which points to the regulated use of explosives while the other to the traditional method that relies heavily on manual labor.  

“Despite several arrests and CDOs [cease and desist orders] in operations of the TF [taskforce] in these SSM hot spots, for some reason they can still procure the explosives even if it is prohibited in SSM mining operations. The government needs to update the antiquated provisions of the law to be attuned to the current situation,” Moncano said in an earlier report. 

Moving forward, Dimaculangan also said that those in SSM who wish to go beyond the current limitations of the law, particularly those who intend to use explosives and heavy equipment, be properly regulated under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and, therefore, should pay excise taxes, follow environmental protection and management rules and regulations, and implement social and community development programs as legitimate large-scale miners do.

In the Philippines, areas where SSM can legally operate are called Minahang Bayan, which is approved and regulated by the government.

Last year, MGB issued the Department Administrative Order 2019-19 (DAO 2019-19), which aims to speed up the environmental restoration both during and after mining operations by the Minahang Bayan.

Meanwhile, Green Thumb Coalition (GTC) Convenor and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera said allowing use of explosives in SSM will negate the limited nature of SSM, and introduce more risks to the miners who may not have the proper training or inadequate safety measures inside the mines.

“This will also increase the chances of illegal trading and illegal possession of explosives that can go to wrong hands (bandits, rebels) and tempt the custodians of explosives to sell explosives. This may result in more chaos in artisanal and SSM areas,” Garganera said.

He likewise noted that MGB has very limited capacity to monitor and regulate SSM.

“It doesn’t even have a reliable database of SSM,” Garganera further said.

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