February 7, 2017

Benguet Can Be A Minahang Bayan And An Eco-Tourism Zone Says DENR Secretary Gina Lopez

As of this writing, there are currently just five (5) "minahang bayan" sites in the entire Philippines. These are located in Dinagat Island, Eastern Samar, Davao Oriental, Agusan del Sur, and Quezon. This number will increase to six in the coming months if the plan by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to declare a "minahang bayan" site in the province of Benguet pushes through. According to Gina Lopez, the Secretary of the agency, it's highly possible that they will declare a "minahang bayan" site in the province very soon. Lopez made the statement after visiting the Antamok open pit mine in Itogon a few days ago.

Lopez and her team took a chopper to the open pit mine which used to be mined by Benguet Corp. There are hundreds of small scale miners that currently operate in the area. After inspecting the area, Lopez decided that it can be turned into a "minahang bayan". She added that the place can also be an eco-tourism zone. Once it's declared as a "minahang bayan", it will be easier for the government to monitor mining and gold production activities in the region. It can be recalled that the concept of a "minahang bayan" was established back in 2015.

Small scale miners and mine operators in Antamok have to organize themselves and form efficient cooperatives if they want to fully reap the benefits of the soon-to-be declared "minahang bayan". They also have to show that they have the technical capability and financial resources to conform to the rules and regulations as put forth by the DENR and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

Only a portion of the Antamok mines will be converted into a "minahang bayan". According to Attorney Froilan Lawilao who represents Benguet Corp., converting a portion of the open pit into a "minahang bayan" has always been a part of their rehabilitation plan for the mine. The company also proposed putting up a a waste-to-energy facility in the area.

For their end of the bargain, the small scale miners and operators have to create their own tailing pond and work using traditional mining equipment. According to Lomino Kaniteng who is one of the leaders of a miners federation in the area, several "minahang bayan" applications have been filed to the DENR since 2004 but these were not processed by the appropriate government regulators. If part of the Antamok mine will be declared as a "minahang bayan", it will be the very first of its kind in the Cordillera region.