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Gov't urged to amend Small Scale Mining Act.

Byline: Daxim L. Lucas

MANILA -- A pro-business think tank involved in environmental issues on Tuesday called for revisions to the law governing small-scale mining, saying that better regulation would help the industry develop.

In a statement, the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) said amendments to Republic Act No. 7076, also known as the People's Small Scale Mining Act of 1991, would also ensure environmental protection and mine safety.

According to PBEST convenor Carlos Primo David, the small-scale mining industry has a role to play in both subsistence mining and the development of mining as a municipal or barangay (village) scale industry.

At the same time, he said, unregulated small-scale mining poses dangers to the miners themselves, as well as the broader environment.

"Rampant illegal small-scale mining activities is a serious environmental risk in areas where these activities are being tolerated," David said. "Illegal mining operators have been known to ignore environmental regulations and even employ child labor in the most hazardous conditions."

Geologically, there are mineral resources, such as small nickel laterite deposits, thin or boxwork gold veins, alluvial gold panning, clay and gemstones, that may only be economically feasible to develop at a smaller scale.

David cited data from Mining and Geosciences Bureau showing that small-scale mining produces about half of the country's gold output and is the biggest source of gold reserves of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

"But we are losing this much-needed asset to irresponsible mining practices and smuggling," he said.

The PBEST convenor explained that local communities would directly benefit from a properly regulated mining industry in terms of taxes worth millions of pesos, which could be channeled to badly needed infrastructure, health services and education.

Leaving small-scale mining to illegal operators will mean hundreds of millions of pesos in unpaid taxes, the unnecessary loss of lives and permanent damage to the environment, he said.

RA 7076 and its accompanying implementing rules and regulations contained the necessary provisions pertaining to small-scale mining. The law also promotes small-scale mining and provides guidelines for environmental protection and mine safety.

According to PBEST, there are certain provisions in RA 7076 that can be improved or replaced in order to make small-scale mining operations compliant with the law and ensure environmental protection.

Governing bodies, such as provincial, municipal or city mining regulatory boards, may not be able to perform the necessary environmental monitoring. Also, they may not be empowered with the necessary police powers and enough jurisdiction to regulate small-scale operations.

David also pointed out that Presidential Decree 1899 granted authority to LGUs to issue small-scale mining permits. But it is the Provincial or City Mining Regulatory Board that has the power, under RA 7076, to oversee the operations.

This has led to conflict and confusion, and must be resolved with finality with the repeal of PD 1899, he added.

"We shall actively push for these reforms in both houses of Congress and with the relevant government agencies," David said.

PBEST works in partnership with the business sector, academe and civil society to promote developmental policies and advocate good governance to ensure "responsible stewardship" of the environment as a requisite in the operations of all industries.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Mar 26, 2014
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