Many mining tunnels in Compostela Valley were left empty on Monday as hundreds of small-scale miners joined the State of the Nation Address protests in Davao City to criticize the alleged failure of the Aquino administration to provide substantial support to the country’s local mining industry.
The small-scale miners asserted that the “daang matuwid” promise of the administration was not felt in the community as it favored foreign large-scale mining corporations instead of providing assistance for the local miners.
Aquino’s new mining executive order would also further strengthen the domination of foreign companies in the exploration and extraction of mineral resources in the country, the small-scale miners said.
Rogelio Simbajon, a small-scale miner who is working in the tunnels for more than 30 years in the gold rush community of Gumayan in the town of in Compostela Valley said that Aquino in his SONA have only mentioned revenue collection from mining.
Aquino said that out of the P145 billion total income derived from the mining operations in the country, only P13.4 billion went to the government.
“But Aquino have not mentioned anything about any plans or programs to support and improve the local mining industry,” Simbajon said.
The small-scale miners also criticized the mining policy of Aquino for limiting the operations to the “minahang bayan”.
“The government wanted our operations limited to the minahang bayan, which is just a small piece of land compared to the thousands of hectares given to foreign corporations. Why is the government taking side with these foreigners and big corporations while turning a blind eye on its constituents who are poor and hungry?” remarked Simbajon.
Citing the case of the mining tenement in Panganason, Pantukan, the protesting small-scale miners said that only 81 hectares were declared as “minahang bayan” while 1,656 hectares were approved for the mining claim awarded to the National Development Corporation.
Expressing the fear of the small-scale mining community, Simbajon said that deputizing government troops to protect big mining companies would worsen the confusion and conflict in the area.
He added that these military forces would be utilized to expel the mining tenements established by small-scale miners to make way for the entry of foreign corporations.
“Sooner or later, these soldiers deployed in our area would be used to evict us from our lands,” Simbajon said.
The miners also cried foul over the ban in the use of mercury on mining operations as stipulated by the government’s new mining policy.
“It’s a trap. They wanted us off the land that is why they wanted to declare our operations illegal,” said Gil Aguilar Jr, a small-scale miner from Panganason, Pantukan.
Mercury was banned by the government for its harmful effects to the health of the people living in the mining communities and to the environment.
However, the miners said that mercury is the easiest and cheapest chemical agent in extracting gold from the ores.
“Yes, we know that there are detrimental effects by using mercury but this is the only method that we know and that is accessible. If the government wanted to change this practice then they should send people to provide technical services to us instead of yacking as if Aquino knows the real condition of the miners,” Aquilar said.
The small-scale miners claimed that the new mining policy and the existing mining laws are failures because it failed in providing assistance and development for the small-scale miners and the mining communities.