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Benguet Corp. backs small miners in Itogon

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BENGUET Corp. wants to legitimize small-scale miners in Itogon by donating to the government its patented property in the Antamok site as a “Minahang Bayan” while providing other livelihood such as ecotourism to the community.

“We are looking at integrated solid waste management, one is a technology turning garbage into power. There’s also a planned ecotourism for them, and the other plan is the Minahang Bayan,” said Anna G. Vicedo-Montes, the company’s assistant vice-president for corporate communications.

“We thought of legitimizing them, asking the government agencies to regulate them, imposing the required environment mitigation programs so that dangers can be mitigated,” she told reporters in a press conference at Sofitel Philippine Plaza on late Wednesday.

The site Benguet Corp. plans to donate is more than 80 hectares, she said. The company has been accused by anti-mining groups for being responsible in the death of miners in the recent landslide in Antamok.

The company’s legal counsel Rey P. Mendoza said Benguet Corp. “has never allowed the small-scale miners to operate within our Antamok claims. The mining activities they are doing there or the processing activities they have are without the permissions of the company.”

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He said the company tried to remove the miners from the area because their mining activities could endanger not only to themselves but to the community. He said efforts to prevent them from entering the area were of no avail.

“Our intention is if the area will be converted into a Minahang Bayan, all the other small scale-miners in the other areas of Benguet will be relocated there, then the government can step in to regulate their activities. This is what we did. They refused to be regulated. They have to consider their livelihood aspects,” he added.

Mr. Mendoza said not even the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) was able to stop the small-scale miners from their activities. He said the company was confident that it would be able to explain its side to the government.

“Before the MGB will take any actions, they will give us the chance to explain our sides. I think we can very well explain our side in this matter,” he said.

The company had coordinated with the local government unit and the MGB of the Cordillera Administrative Region in 2002 to establish the Acupan Contract Mining Project, which provided livelihood to the miners who were organized into cooperatives to become legitimate mining contractors, with proper documents.

He said that the company had been forced to give up the site as it was competing with the miners who were destroying the underground infrastructure.

Ms. Montes said that the rehabilitation plan for the site was continuing since the submission in the ’90s ahead of an amended version in 2016.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu in his speech on Wednesday during the Mining Philippines Conference and Exhibition 2018 that he would have discussions with mining companies on how to successfully implement mining laws in the country.

“I will meet with you again and discuss things. I want to see how the mining sector will look like in the future,” he said.

MGB Acting Assistant Director Danilo U. Uykieng said that it is a must for the government to communicate with the stakeholders to help promote the mining sector.

He also said that the MGB wants to lift the moratorium on exploration to determine the areas where mining operations should be.

“The government should be at the forefront of promoting the mining industry but we must help each other to communicate with the larger stakeholders, the Filipino people, and be more engaging to them. It is timely that we have to communicate more often. We have to engage not only with regulators but directly to communities. If they understand, they will not ask questions,” he said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio

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