SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/26 February) – Some local government officials in mining areas in Surigao have protested the move of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Caraga to “rationalize” their memberships in committees created under the Mining Act of 1995, saying this could result in their constituents not receiving the benefits due them.
The controversy stemmed from MGB’s memorandum issued last year prohibiting a local government unit from being represented in more than one of the following committees: Community Technical Working Group (CTWG), Mine Rehabilitation Fund Committee (MRFC) and the Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT).
MGB regional director Roger A. de Dios explained his memorandum was meant “to implement what the law has provided” and ensure check and balance in the prioritization of livelihood projects for the communities.
“We found out that local representatives are sitting in two to three of these committees. How can we ensure there is check and balance if a member in one committee also becomes a member of the MRFC or the MMT? Or vice versa,” he said.
But his proposal, which he presented during a two-day reorientation seminar on Thursday and Friday last week, did not sit well with some local officials.
Barangay chair Carmelio I. Galing of Urbiztondo, Surigao City said the limit set on committee membership might result in priority projects for his barangay getting disapproved by the MRFC for political reasons.
Galing said it’s likely that the municipal official in the MRFC would favor a barangay where the officials are his supporters over a barangay where the officials are not his allies.
He said the MGB, which is attached to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), should have consulted them first before calling them to attend the seminar and tell them about the changes.
He said the changes mean that a barangay official who is already a CTWG member can no longer sit either in the MRFC or MMT.
Interviewed at the sidelines of the seminar, de Dios said he was worried he might be perceived as a spokesperson of the mining industry for introducing the changes.
But he said his memorandum merely reiterated Department Administrative Order (DAO) 96-40 or the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Mining Act of 1995.
Section 183 of the IRR says that the MRFC shall be composed of the MGB regional director as chair, the regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as co-chair, and representatives from the local government unit, NGOs and community organizations, church or civic organizations, and from the permit holder.
A seat is allotted for autonomous regional governments where this is applicable.
Section 185 of the IRR says the MMT is deputized by the MRFC “to serve as the monitoring arm of said Committee”.
CTWG was a concept that started in the province in 1999 as a result of “the nagging negative impression that mining is an environmental and community despoiler”, an MGB document said.
The committee, however, has received criticisms it has become “too populated” with as many as 25 to 30 members taking part in the formulation of the Social Development Management Program.
De Dios said the large membership of committees due to the repetitive inclusion of barangay, municipal and provincial officials can be a financial burden to companies.
Every committee member receives a P1,000 honorarium for every meeting he or she attends.
But Galing said their protest has nothing to do with the honorarium they receive saying they are entitled to it as volunteers. He said MGB personnel are the ones who should not get honorariums since they are government employees.
“We agree to an honorarium because this goes direct to the barangay,” he said.
Galing said the CTWG membership has been reduced to five – MGB, barangay captain, company representative, religious and NGO.
The barangay chair said a bigger membership is better because there would be many people who can explain to the community in case there are problems like anti-mining sentiments.
He proposed instead that they be stripped of voting power but not of their membership.
For her part, Mayor Christina Hemady Romarate-Arcillas of Tubod town, Surigao del Norte conceded the committees were indeed too big and welcomed the de Dios’ initiative. But she said she was worried over the exclusion of the municipal government in the MMT since the host barangays are still “not capacitated”.
Vice Mayor Alfred Vargas of Carascal town, Surigao del Sur asked de Dios if they were already removed from the MMT.
De Dios said the matter will be raised to the proper committee for discussion and final resolution.
The MGB director said that when he assumed the post in August last year, he noted that the SDMP focused on infrastructure and allocated less for economic and livelihood projects.
“I think the law (Philippine Mining Act of 1995) is clear when it said that social development projects should be given more weight because in the first place this is why we allow mining companies here…to improve the lives of the people in the communities where it is operating,” he said.
According to the MGB-XIII data, infrastructure projects got P103.099 million and economic projects only P65.097 million during the last 13 years.
In a memo issued last year, he ordered that the share for livelihood projects should be 20% of the 75% share for SDMP from the 1.5% of the mining firms’ operating cost that should be allocated for the development of host communities as per DAO 2010-21.
The memo also set an 80% share for health, education, public utilities and socio-cultural preservation, with health and education as “continuing priority projects”.
Allocations for fiesta celebrations were reduced to a maximum of P50,000 per barangay. Festivals and “Araw ng Barangay” got the same amount. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)