Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte is supporting the goal of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to legalize the operations of small-scale miners to enable the government to provide them with social protection plus skills training and even financial incentives for their operations.
“Environment Secretary Toni (Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga) must act with dispatch on the President’s recent directive for the DENR to strengthen the regulatory framework for small-scale mining with the end view of legalizing the preponderantly unsupervised and perilous activities of these small miners while better protecting the environment,” Villafuerte said.
“The legalization of more small-scale mining activities, as sought by President Marcos, would let the DENR and its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) effectively track the extractive activities of these small-scale miners, and promote their safety, provide financial incentives for these now largely unsupervised type of extractive activities, generate higher revenue from the mining sector, and do a better job of protecting the environment,” he added.
Villafuerte also supported the President’s proposal for the Congress to amend Republic Act (RA) 7065, or the “People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991,” by incentivizing small-scale mining and extending social assistance, labor protection, and government assistance programs to these miners.
President Marcos sought the legalization of more small-scale miners in the country in his recent meeting with DENR officials at Malacañan Palace, just two months after Villafuerte called on Yulo Loyzaga to work closely with the Department of the Interior and Local Government
(DILG) and other concerned agencies on the full implementation of RA 7076, so her department can better regulate this activity and flush out illegal miners.
During the committee hearing of the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Yulo-Loyzaga’s designation as environment secretary, Villafuerte—the majority leader of this bicameral panel that screens presidential appointees—urged the DENR Secretary to work on legalizing more small-scale miners.
Villafuerte, president of the National Unity Party (NUP), made this proposal to the DENR secretary after learning during Yulo-Loyzaga’s CA hearing that only 49 Minahang Bayan applications for small-scale mining areas have been approved thus far from the time RA 7076 was signed into law by then President Corazon Aquino in 1991.
The People’s Small-Scale Mining Areas or Minahang Bayan areas are places where small-scale miners are legally allowed to extract gold, silver and chromite.
A former Camarins Sur governor, Villafuerte told Yulo-Loyzaga that the legalization of more Minahang Bayan applications would enable the DENR and its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to effectively track small-scale mining activities and better protect the environment.
“The legalization of small-scale mining is definitely a lot better way of monitoring the operations of these miners, because it certainly is far more difficult for the DENR and MGB to track the activities of small-scale miners if they continue operating outside Minahang Bayan areas,” he said.
“Limiting small-scale miners to do their extraction activities only in Minahang Bayan areas will enable the government to effectively monitor if these miners are abiding by the law that bans their use of mercury, which is believed to cause respiratory and kidney diseases or even death for people following their high exposures to this neurotoxin.”
Executive Order (EO) 79, which was issued by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, prohibits small-scale miners from using mercury in their extraction.
RA 7076 allows small-scale mining activities only in government-declared Minahang Bayan areas.
This 1991 law defines small-scale mining as activities that “rely heavily on manual labor using simple implement and methods and do not use explosives or heavy mining equipment.”