DENR orders halt to small-scale mining in Cordillera

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Monday said he has ordered a stop to all small-scale mining operations in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Cimatu announced the development in a media briefing on Monday with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque at the Provincial Capitol of La Trinidad, Benguet.

"In view of this current situation in the Cordilleras, to prevent further danger to the lives of small-scale miners, I officially order cease and desist of all illegal small-scale mining operations in the whole of Cordillera Administrative Region," Cimatu said.

"We ask our small-scale miners to cooperate and stop all small-scale mining activities here," he added.

Cimatu said the military and police will be deployed to the region to implement the order, especially in Itogon town in Benguet, where rescuers retrieved at least 35 bodies that were buried in a landslide triggered by Typhoon Ompong. The said municipality is known for its mining activities.

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan, meanwhile, said he wants to hold consultations with authorities before the government implements the closure of small-scale mining.

"We should conduct first a technical conference before you will close any small-scale miners. Because the local officials knows very well the situation of our small-scale miners," Palangdan said in the briefing.

"The retrieval search and rescue operations being conducted by the military. We are still conducting, and as the secretary said, we will not stop until we recover all the bodies," the mayor added.

Meanwhile, the Benguet Corporation, which allegedly owns the abandoned mining site, said it previously warned the small-scale miners to vacate the area.

"The persons affected are mostly small-scale miners (SSMs) who have been illegally operating in its Antamok claims. Their unregulated mining activities are without permission of the company," the company wrote in a statement.

"Subsequent warnings, and notices from the company for the SSMs to vacate the area were met with resistance and outright refusal."

Relocation

Following implementation of the order, Cimatu said the next step will be for the miners to relocate, as these sites are considered "very dangerous areas."

"The first phase is to stop (small-scale mining), second stage is to relocate them out of those very dangerous areas because we have issued a geohazard map all over the country. Pinapakita doon yung mga delikado kapag landslide, kasama ito, yung nangyari dito," Cimatu said.

[Translation: It's shown in the map the areas which could be dangerous especially during landslides. And this area, what happened here, is included.]

The secretary also pointed out that majority of the miners in Benguet hail from other provinces, especially from Ifugao. He said authorities are looking at the possibility of transferring them back to their hometowns.

Roque said the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will be mobilized for alternative livelihood trainings for the miners who will be affected by the order.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines on Monday urged the government "to take a tougher stance against illegal small-scale mining activities" following the reported casualties. 

CNN Philippines Correspondent Ina Andolong and Digital Producer Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.