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Letters to the Editor

Include small miners, too

/ 12:03 AM October 21, 2014

The small-scale mining industry is a significant force that can either push our economy up or drag it down. The drop in gold sales to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is a clear example of this. Unfortunately, most have yet to fully grasp the enormity of the problem that comes with government’s lack of recognition and assistance to the small-scale mining sector.

“Benguet solons seek scrapping of taxes on small-scale gold mining” (Inquirer.net, 9/17/14) reported that a bill has been filed to remove the taxes imposed on gold sold to the BSP by small-scale miners. While we are always in support of measures that eliminate the barriers to the sale of gold to the BSP, government should also look at ways to facilitate the formalization of the small-scale mining industry.

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We urge our officials: Instead of providing piecemeal solutions, look at the situation in its entirety, eliminate barriers and create broader approaches to improve the industry by crafting legislation and programs that will have lasting impact on the issues of economy, health, environment and even human rights.

The recent news about the soon-to-be-signed revised IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the Small Scale Mining Act of 1991, which promises to help in the formalization of the industry, will need to be closely examined if indeed it will address the pressing issues of the sector or if it will just perpetuate the untenable status quo.

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The integration of small-scale miners into the formal economy will provide the small-scale mining community with benefits like membership in the Social Security System, PhilHealth, etc. This also will open opportunities for education, social enterprise, alternative livelihood and other programs that can empower their sector.

Empowerment is an important step if we truly want, as a nation, to fully embrace the benefits of a strong, intelligent and responsible small-scale mining sector. South Cotabato, for example, has a program called Minahang Bayanihan, which addresses various issues concerning the province’s small-scale mining industry, including health and sanitation, economic security and sharing scheme, etc.

As a result, South Cotabato topped Region 12’s revenue collection in 2013 after it generated P11.5 million from small-scale mining fees, according to a 2014 report from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

Most importantly, formalizing the industry will subject the small-scale miners to better government oversight and thus help address recurring issues such as mercury-use, child labor and occupational safety, among other concerns. Regulating the industry will also address the worsening environmental degradation in small-scale mining areas.

Unless we address their concerns, it will be difficult to control or regulate an industry when its people suffer from abject poverty and abuse. To judge them is to judge our own lack of action to their pitiful situation. To exclude Filipino small-scale miners in the national development agenda by failing to draw them into the formal sector is also to reject the value they bring to the economic table and to prop up the forces that derive benefits from the sector’s continued illegality.

—RICHARD GUTIERREZ, JD, LlM,
executive director, BAN Toxics!
[email protected]

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TAGS: gold, mining, small-scale mining, small-scale mining law
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