MANILA – The environment department’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) targets to intensify the regulation of small-scale mining in the country.

“We’re working to fast-track the approval of applications for Minahang Bayan areas nationwide,” MGB Acting Director Wilfredo Moncano said in Quezon City on Thursday during the Philippine launch of the Global Environment Facility-funded USD11.70-million project to help eliminate the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining sectors in the country and Mongolia.

He said the MGB already recognized and declared as Minahang Bayan, areas cited in 26 of the 141 applications the bureau has received so far.

Minahang Bayan areas are where small-scale miners can operate legally, enabling the government to better monitor and regulate their extractive activities while helping promote the safety of these workers, protect the environment, and generate revenues for government.

Declaring more Minahang Bayan areas nationwide increases the opportunity for government to track small-scale mining.

“It’s difficult to monitor small-scale miners if they’re operating outside Minahang Bayan areas,” MGB Small-Scale Mining Development Section chief Joel Natividad said.

According to Republic Act 7076 or the People's Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, small-scale mining “refers to mining activities which rely heavily on manual labor using simple implement(s) and methods and do not use explosives or heavy mining equipment.”

“Small-scale mining is applicable to gold, silver and chromite only,” Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Assistant Secretary Nonita Caguioa clarified during the launch. She, however, cited a restriction on extracting metallic minerals.

Executive Order 79 series of 2012 prohibits the use of mercury in small-scale mining, she also said.

RA 7076 established the people's small-scale mining program, saying this aims “to achieve an orderly, systematic and rational scheme for the small-scale development and utilization of mineral resources in certain mineral areas in order to address the social, economic, technical, and environmental connected with small-scale mining activities.”

The program features identification, segregation, and reservation of certain mineral land as people's small-scale mining areas or Minahang Bayan, notes RA 7076.

Minahang Bayan “refers to the entire area declared as people’s small-scale mining area pursuant to RA 7076,” reads the law's Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

“No small-scale mining shall be undertaken outside a Minahang Bayan and that no entity shall engage in small-scale mining without a small-scale mining contract,” the revised IRR states.

RA 7076's revised IRR cites the DENR Secretary, through this person’s representative, as having direct supervision and control over programs and activities of small-scale miners within Minahang Bayan areas.

Since MGB knows where declared Minahang Bayan areas are, Natividad said it is easier for the bureau to provide small-scale miners some technical assistance.

He said among such assistance is teaching them how to mine without using mercury. (PNA)