24 February 2023, SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE – Formerly called “La Montanosa” for its mountainous terrain, Mountain Province is known to have the biggest and highest chain of mountains in the Philippines. Composed of ten (10) municipalities and 144 barangays, Mt. Province is home to more than 150,000 people whose main sources of livelihood are agriculture and tourism.
One of the well-known tourist spots in Mt. Province is Sagada, which is also home to a small-scale mining (SSM) community. Since 1985, SSM activities have been present in the Northern Zone of the province, specifically in Barangay Fidelisan, where there is a declared People’s Small-scale Mining Area, or a Minahang Bayan, covering 10 hectares.
The SSM operations in Sagada are heavily influenced by their customary laws and traditions. Since one of the municipality’s main livelihoods is agriculture, the community values environmental protection through its traditional resource management systems in SSM operations. Community elders also participate in decision-making processes for mining operations.
While it has been over three decades since SSM activities started in the municipality, this sector has yet to be recognized as a legitimate source of economic development. Despite the Minahang Bayan being declared in November 2020 and being considered as having the fastest approval process in the history of Minahang Bayan applications in the country, the small-scale mining association in the area still faces major challenges in terms of formalization.
To help address these obstacles, planetGOLD Philippines launched a policy workshop series in November 2022 to provide an avenue for relevant government agencies to collaborate on solutions for the development of the SSM sector. To contextualize the workshop outputs and project findings, and ensure that the policy recommendations are aligned with the realities at the regional and provincial levels, the Project conducted the Mountain Province leg on 22-24 February 2023, entitled "Making Mercury History in the Philippine Small-scale Gold Mining Sector: Stories from the Minahang Bayan of Brgy. Fidelisan, Sagada". More than 30 representatives from selected central, regional, and provincial offices attended the policy workshop, including:
- Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Mt. Province;
- Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Central Office and CAR;
- Environmental Management Bureau CAR and Provincial Environmental Management Unit;
- National Economic and Development Authority CAR;
- National Commission on Indigenous Peoples CAR and Sagada;
- Philippine Statistics Authority-Mt. Province;
- Provincial Government of Mt. Province; and,
- Sagada Local Government Unit.
Mr. Angel Baybay, the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) Focal Person and a permanent representative of the Provincial Government to the planetGOLD Philippines Project Steering Committee, officially opened the workshop. He shared the history of small-scale mining in Sagada and emphasized the importance of a safer and cleaner SSM industry. "We are here so that we could gain insights and inputs on how to responsibly extract our mineral wealth taking into consideration its health impact on those who are involved in it, other people residing in downstream communities, and of course the environment."
He was followed by Mt. Province Vice Governor Hon. Francis Tauli who emphasized the importance of the representation and meaningful participation of government agencies in activities such as the policy workshop. "We are gathered here to come up with regulations and doable plans which will benefit the miners, the environment, and the people. Having the brains from the different national and local government agencies present, I do believe some challenging issues relative to mining laws and administrative issuances will be settled here, and as well, concrete plans will soon be prepared."
Representing Sagada Mayor Hon. Felicito Dula, Executive Assistant Mr. Ceasar Soliba expressed the support of the Sagada municipal government in the activities of planetGOLD Philippines. “On behalf of Mayor Dula, I welcome and thank each and every one of you for choosing Sagada as the venue for the event. The mayor said that he fully supports the activities for the prosperity of the miners in Sagada.”
Mr. Soliba also hoped for a safer working environment for small-scale miners in Sagada. “I hope to see the fruits of the labour of the miners as their jobs inside the mines are too risky. The municipal government of Sagada supports the legal mining activities.”
The first day featured a series of presentations including:
- An overview of the planetGOLD Philippines and Project updates from planetGOLD Philippines National Technical Expert Engr. Louie Bedes;
- Code of Risk-mitigation for Artisanal and small-scale mining engaging in Formal Trade (CRAFT) Code planetGOLD Version from planetGOLD Philippines National Investment Specialist Kristal Jaylo-Bautista;
- Policies and Regulations in the Philippine SSM Sector from MGB Central Office Engr. John Peter Miraña; and,
- An overview of the SSM sector in the Cordillera Administrative Region and in Sagada, Mt. Province from MGB CAR Engr. Brent Pagteilan and Engr. Frenzel Thomas Paatan.
The first day ended with a stakeholder mapping workshop where the participants were asked to identify the different organizations from various sectors that play a role in the development of SSM in the provinces.
The second day started with a stocktaking workshop which focused on their organizations’ existing policies, programs, and activities specific to SSM. Outputs from the workshop were presented afterwards.
The workshop was then followed by a series of presentations including:
- “Stories from the field: The Sagada Minahang Bayan Small-scale Mining Community” from planetGOLD Philippines National Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Mildred Arucan;
- “Voices of women miners in Sagada” from Gender Consultant Jacklyn Belo-Enricoso; and,
- “Gold with Dignity: A Human-Rights Based Approach to SSM Formalization” from planetGOLD Philippines National Assistant Project Manager Michelle Manza.
To know more about the objectives of each presentation, click here.
The second day was capped off with the World Cafe workshop wherein they discussed the policy and implementation gaps and challenges related to the SSM sector in Sagada.
On the third day of the policy workshop, each government agency presented and discussed their action plans on which they highlighted the following major challenges and recommendations for the SSM sector in Mountain Province:
- There is a need to amend the existing policies on SSM to address the needs of the miners, especially on streamlining formalization processes. Technical assistance should be provided to miners for the facilitation of these requirements.
- Data and information on small-scale mining as a livelihood is crucial for evidence-based policy-making. However, data accuracy and validity should also be emphasized.
- Institutional reforms such as the provision of resources specific to SSM are needed to support the implementation of policies and regulations.
- There should be localized policies and ordinances specific to SSM issued by the local government units concerned.
- Miners should be capacitated in terms of accessing finance and markets and gold trading as a whole.
- Infrastructure challenges including limited road access and poor mobile connectivity also play a major role in terms of communications.
The three-day workshop ended with a message from Mr. June Pinayakan, Legal Assistant at the Mt. Province Provincial Government, who emphasized the importance of continuing and implementing the plans that each government agency shared throughout the workshop.
“We encourage that we start with us to ensure that our SSM sector be formalized. We want to legalize their operations, and the programs presented here will help them. The program and activities that we have started here should not end here. Let us continue our efforts for the benefit of the people of Mountain Province.”
The activities officially capped off with a closing message from Regional Director Fay Apil of MGB CAR, who hopes that the action plans presented during the workshop will push through even with the challenges identified by the government agencies themselves.
“I hope that with the action plans presented, even with budget constraints as deciding factors in conducting activities, we make a way to help our small-scale miners. With the progress we are attaining these days, we are one step closer to achieving a more responsible and sustainable SSM in our region.”
Moreover, she highlighted why it is crucial to recognize small-scale mining as a livelihood in the Philippines. “Our President made a pronouncement that we should help the small-scale miners because he acknowledges–as well as the DENR–that small-scale mining is a significant source of livelihood. That’s why we are pushing for [the operation of] this Minahang Bayan and the [implementation of the] Small-scale Mining Contract to make their mining operations socially and environmentally responsible.”
The planetGOLD Philippines Project will continue delivering on its commitment to facilitate access of small-scale miners to government incentives and support services in formalizing the Philippine SSM sector. We will do this by providing spaces for dialogue and avenues for collaboration among government agencies, non-government organizations, the private sector, academia, the media, and the miners themselves.
The planetGOLD Philippines project is implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme, and United Nations Industrial Development Organization, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and executed by the Artisanal Gold Council.
For more updates about the activities of planetGOLD Philippines: