Mayor admits backing proposed ‘Minahan ng Bayan’ in Bukidnon’s ‘tribal capital’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 31 July) – A municipal mayor in Bukidnon has admitted to reporters that he is supporting the declaration of 2,000 hectares of land in his town as “Minahan ng Bayan” (People’s Mines).

Impasug-ong Mayor Mario Okinlay said Tuesday that he has left the deliberation of the proposal at the Sangguniang Bayan, which is spearheading consultations in barangays Bayog and Impalutao, two of the town’s 13 villages.

“If the national government is supporting the ‘Minahan ng Bayan,’ why don’t we in the local government?” he told reporters who covered the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade in Camp Osito Bahian here. He was among three mayors present in the occasion.

Okinlay said the small scale mining projects to be done in the Minahan ng Bayan will be implemented by cooperatives of farmers, including indigenous people (IP).

He denied that the declaration of the Minahan ng Bayan will jeopardize the environment and its people.

“There will be a plan of gradual implementation of mining activities,” he added. He said he doesn’t see a problem with the declaration even if the municipal council has declared the town as Bukidnon’s tribal capital.

“The cooperatives to operate the mines will include IPs,” he added.

MindaNews sources who attended the consultation said Councilor Raymundo Gante, chair of the municipal council’s laws and rules committee, presided the meeting along with Councilor Anthony Fernandez, chair of the environment committee. Also in the hearing was former mayor Julia Okinlay, the mayor’s wife who is also an incumbent councilor.

The mayor, who was spotted in the hearing, eventually left and did not address the crowd. MindaNews sources said the wife, however, spoke and assured residents not to worry as the declaration means keeping the town away from possible large scale operations of international mining firms.

Bukidnon has an ordinance banning large scale mining.

Eutropio Jamelo, of the Environment Desk of the Diocese of Malaybalay, told MindaNews that during the consultation, majority of those present were convinced of the advantages of the declaration. There were those who raised the possible disadvantages like the effect to water resources, he added.

Quoting sources, he said Friday the town’s Sangguniang Bayan had decided to defer action on the proposal. He added that the proposal reached the body on July 15 where majority of the members decided to “hold it in abeyance” pending the “conduct of further study” and barangay consultations.

The town council conducted a consultation in Barangay Bayong last July 28 and will do another one in Barangay Impalutao on August 3.

Jamelo, who anchors “Ang Kinaiyahan Karon” (Nature Today), an environmental radio program on the church-run radio station DXDB that airs twice a week, urged residents to scrutinize both the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal considering its possible effects on the environment.

“The Tagoloan River (one of Impasug-ong’s main sources of water) has already been polluted even if only small-scale mining operations are present in the area. What more if 2,000 hectares will be declared open for mining,” he said.

Impalutao, one of the proposed sites for the Minahan ng Bayan, hosts the 1,703-hectare Center for Environmental Development and Recreation, a nature park jointly managed and developed as an eco-tourism site by the municipal government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Another source, who asked not to be quoted also for fear of reprisal, said the proposed Minahan ng Bayan is inconsistent with the declaration of the town as Bukidnon’s “tribal capital.”

“As a tribal capital, we are supposed to protect and conserve our forests, habitat of many of our tribal inhabitants. What happens if the same is opened to mining?” the source added.

Ronelo Alvarez, provincial director of the Department of Interior and Local Government, welcomed the town council’s decision to hold the proposed ordinance in abeyance.

“It is the duty of the town council to conduct studies first on the impact of the project to the community, the environment, and the people,” he said.

Alvarez reminded municipal officials to go slow on the project even if some sectors consider it “urgent”. The town council, he added, is duty-bound to at least refer the matter to the environment committee and task them to conduct public hearings.

For small-scale miners to operate legally, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR should declare a site a “Minahan ng Bayan” based on Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991.

The law requires small-scale miners to secure an environmental compliance certificate through an environmental impact statement by the Environmental Management Bureau.

Prior to operations, small-scale miners are also required to secure Potential Environmental Impact Report and Final Mine Rehabilitation/Decommissioning Plan approved by the MGB and the Community Development and Management Program.