Focus on agri instead of mining, professionals advise Bukidnon town

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 12 Aug) – The municipal government of Impasug-ong in Bukidnon should dedicate its time and resources on helping improve and modernize agriculture rather than push for mining, which only benefits a few while it puts the environment to high risk.

This was the advice given by the Task Force Against Corruption (TFAC), a group of professionals from various sectors, including academe, non-government organizations and churches based in the municipalities of Impasug-ong and Sumilao.

Dr. Wilfredo Martinez, of TFAC, said during the recently held barangay consultation in the villages of Impalutao and Capt. Bayong that the mining proponents stressed the advantages like economic and livelihood opportunities using the outfit of cooperatives.

But he said mining opportunities benefit only a few, including their local benefactors, while mining has a big impact on the environment.

About 2,000 hectares of land in barangays Impalutao Capt. Bayong in Impasug-ong are being eyed as “people’s mines” or “Minahang Bayan.”

Martinez said the focus should be on agriculture, where many of the town’s residents depend on.

Mining proponents also cited that they will set up local mechanisms to protect the environment with the local legislation’s implementing rules and regulations. The Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) told those who attended the consultation on August 3 there is a need to strengthen local policies on mining if the declaration pushes through.

Former mayor Joy Okinlay, incumbent councilor and wife of current Mayor Mario Okinlay, said they will follow zoning classifications, adding there will be zones for tourism, agriculture, and mining.

She belied reports the ongoing small scale mining operations in the town destroyed the Tagoloan River that traverses barangays of the town. She instead blamed agricultural plantations operating in the area to have allegedly polluted the river.

Eutropio Jamilo, of the environmental desk of the Diocese of Malaybalay, blamed mining for the pollution and destruction of the Tagoloan River.

The MENRO vowed to create a local policy covering mining to protect the environment and the residents.

But Martinez said the IRR or the local policy won’t be enough to prevent the impact if mining operations are already on the roll.

Mayor Okinlay told reporters earlier he is behind the proposed declaration of the “Minahang Bayan” in the town. He said he has left deliberations on 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 the 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.

During the consultation in Brgy. Impalutao, Councilor Raymundo Gante, chair of the municipal council’s laws and rules committee, said there will be more consultations to be held on the proposal. He said even if approved at the local level, the proposal will have to go through the scrutiny of the provincial board and the Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Office.

Martinez, however, said they are on alert and are ready to take actions to oppose it, adding they received information that the municipal council will pass a resolution declaring the area as Minahan ng Bayan on August 15.