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DENR warns illegal miners

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Amid continued calls for greater responsibility from mining companies nationwide, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) assures Filipinos that the agency is fully committed to fighting environmental abuse caused by illegal mining operators.

“There is no room for illegal mining in the Philippines,” Atty. Wilfredo G. Moncano, Director of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said in a recent interview.

According to him, this is following a longstanding initiative of the MGB to enhance environmental protection and rehabilitation in the Philippine mining industry in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, and the creation of new policies further enhancing the protection of the environment and local communities.

Under the current administration, the MGB launched a new task force called the National Task Force Mining Challenge (NTFMC) on January 16, 2018 to squash illegal mining operators, beginning with a Baguio City mine near the Philippine Military Academy grounds which was closed down in February 2018.

“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 shared.

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

“We are now pushing for the task force to be made into a separate bureau. In this way, it will have more resources, more manpower, and more leverage to work with other law enforcement bodies. 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,” Moncano pointed out.

Currently, the MGB is also 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,” spoke Engr. Teodorico Sandoval, Officer-in-Charge of the MGB Mining Technology Division. “We’re pushing for them to join the Minahang Bayan.”

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,” Engr. Sandoval added. “This is to make sure that this is the best opportunity for them to become legitimate.”

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,” mentioned Moncano, referring to the taxation of the sale of gold to the Central Bank in 2011. “But that resulted in a 99% drop in domestic gold purchases.”

“We really must be more collaborative,” he emphasized. “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.”

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