Government eyes separate bureau to stamp out illegal mining

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The government is pushing for a separate agency that will fight environmental abuse caused by illegal mining operations in the country.

The move is aimed at creating a better and responsible extractive industry.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its attached agency Mines and Geosciences Bureau want the current Environmental Enforcement Task Force to become a separate bureau to handle illegal mining operations.

“We are now pushing for the conversion of the  task force into a separate bureau. In this way, it will have more resources, more manpower, and more leverage to work with other law enforcement bodies,” MGB director Wilfredo Moncano said.

“The environmental laws are there, but we need to be as strict as possible with the enforcement and that means a lot of collaboration from the bottom going up,” he said.

Last year, the MGB launched the National Task Force Mining Challenge (NTFMC) to squash illegal mining operators, beginning with a Baguio City mine near the Philippine Military Academy grounds which was closed down in February 2018.

The NTFMC was later re-established as the Environmental Enforcement Task Force, expanding its management of environmental protection laws beyond mining to include the violation of logging laws, wildlife protection and agricultural policies.

“Through NTFMC, we aggressively apprehend illegal mining operators, as well as seize, confiscate, and dismantle their equipment, including blasting tunnel entrances or portals to the mining sites,” Moncano said.

He said the MGB has a longstanding initiative to enhance environmental protection and rehabilitation in the local mining industry in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, and the creation of new policies aimed at further enhancing the protection of the environment and local communities.

The MGB is seeking to reduce illegal mining operations by allowing small-scale miners to formally register and join cooperatives.

“We are now seeking to formalize the informal. We are pushing for them to join the Minahang Bayan,” MGB mining technology division officer-in-charge Teodorico Sandoval said.

A Minahang Bayan, under the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act, is a cooperative of small-scale mines operating as one unit.

“The process is also faster for them. This is to make sure that this is the best opportunity for them to become legitimate,” Sandoval said.

In line with this, the government has waived the income and excise tax of gold sold from small-scale mining operations as an incentive for smaller mining operators to stay away from the black market and comply with government regulations.

“We tried taxing before. But that resulted in a 99 percent drop in domestic gold purchases. We really must be more collaborative. We can’t just tax and punish, we have to reward also, in order to strengthen our environmental protection and management of the mining industry,” Moncano said. 

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