Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to “revisit and validate” all applications for People’s Small-Scale Mining Areas or “Minahang Bayan” sites across the country to determine their safety against geological hazards.

“We will be stricter in approving Minahang Bayan sites, and affirm whether they conform to standards that are safe especially for the miners,” Cimatu said.

The DENR chief also directed the MGB to make sure the shelters provided to small-scale miners are safe and do not pose risk to them.

“Their (small-scale miners) residences should be far enough from identified geohazard areas,” he said.

Cimatu issued the statement after the MGB office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) confirmed that 10 associations of small-scale miners had been granted temporary mining contracts in Itogon, Benguet, pending the declaration of a Minahang Bayan.

Itogon is site of landslides where dozens have remained missing and feared dead as of press time. The landslides were a result of torrential rainfall brought by typhoon Ompong, which battered the region over the weekend.

Cimatu immediately ordered the revocation of all the temporary contracts effective immediately, and called a halt to all small-scale mining activities in the region. The contracts were issued by virtue of Executive Order (EO) 79 issued in 2012.

EO 79 aims to implement mining reforms in the country to ensure environmental protection and promote responsible utilization of mineral resources. One of the provisions to improve small-scale mining activities is to allow them only within declared minahang bayan, pursuant to Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1991.

Cimatu said he would request the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to help the MGB impose complete stoppage of all mining activities in CAR.

He also ordered the MGB to review all geohazard maps in the country and determine which are in known mining sites.

The environment chief then urged local government units (LGUs) to consult geohazard maps prepared and issued by the DENR, which clearly indicates landslide and flood prone areas.

The LGUs, he said, should “not hesitate in evacuating residents and workers during calamities, even if you have to carry them out bodily.”

“Their lives are more important,” he added.

At the same time, Cimatu underscored the need to regulate small-scale mining, and ensure their compliance with regulations on human and environmental safety, such as health and sanitation, prohibition on the use of mercury, and containment of tailings. ###