Proposed ‘Minahang Bayan’ in Bukidnon town put on hold

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/29 July) – The Sangguniang Bayan of Impasugong, Bukidnon has decided to defer action on the proposal to set aside about 2,000 hectares in two of the town’s 13 barangays as Minahang Bayan (People’s Mines), Eutropio Jamelo of the Diocese of Malaybalay Environment Desk told MindaNews Friday.

Jamelo, quoting sources, said 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 sources requested anonymity citing security risks on their part given the sensitivity of the issue and the interests at stake.

The town council has scheduled to hold consultations in Barangay Bayong today and in Barangay Impalutao on August 3.

Jamelo, who anchors an environmental radio program on church-run DXDB every Wednesday, urged residents to scrutinize both the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal considering its possible effects on the environment.

“The Tagoloan River (one of Impasugong’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 Minahang 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 “Minahang 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 tasked them to conduct public hearings.

He said they are even required to conduct an environmental impact assessment and consult the people affected before deciding on the proposed ordinance.

“This is just a standard reminder to the local government to follow the process of consultation in pursuing this project that could possibly affect the people and the environment,” he added.

Alvarez said the consultations could prevent local officials from blaming one another once the ordinance is passed and turns out to have adverse effects.

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.

Efforts to declare the town as Bukidnon’s tribal capital received wide support at the Bukidnon Provincial Board in 2011 with the sponsorship of then board member Nemesio Beltran Jr.

Established in 1877, Impasugong (107,167 ha) has managed to preserve its cultural heritage and ethnic identity, Beltran said.

He noted in his resolution that the town is the only one in Bukidnon where the Higaonon tribe lives in all 13 barangays and “religiously practice their tribal customs and traditions,” including rituals and indigenous justice system.

Higaonon is one of the province’s seven tribes, the others being Bukidnon, Manobo, Talaandig, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon and Umayamnon.

According to Mindanao historian Rudy B. Rodil, Impasugong is one of only four Bukidnon towns where the majority of the inhabitants are Lumads or indigenous peoples. Seven other towns in Mindanao are also predominantly Lumads.

Impasugong is a Higaonon term which means “current that flows upstream.” (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)