LEGAZPI CITY, ALBAY–“Efforts to reduce and feasibly eliminate the use of mercury and its compounds in the nation’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector have been enacted by the government. This is in the hopes that these efforts will be translated into a National Action Plan which puts forth measures to achieve the desired reductions and develop public health strategies for our small-scale miners in the communities involved.”
Undersecretary Jonas Leones of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) highlighted the Philippine government’s efforts in addressing mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in his pre-recorded welcome remarks during the Camarines Norte leg of the planetGOLD Philippines Policy Workshop series last 17 May 2023 in Legazpi City, Albay. This is in line with the Philippine government’s ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury–the first legally binding international treaty that aims to protect the environment and human health from anthropogenic emissions and releases of the toxic heavy metal mercury.
As a commitment to Article 7 of the Convention, the government is required to take steps to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate the use of mercury and mercury compounds in the ASGM sector–which should be translated into a National Action Plan (NAP).
To assist in the development of the NAP, planetGOLD Philippines launched its policy workshop series in November 2022, which aims to provide an avenue for government agencies to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop solutions that would benefit the ASGM sector. With the theme “Making Mercury History in the Philippine Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining Sector”, the workshop series envisions consolidating inputs from different agencies as baseline information for the NAP development. For its third leg, the workshop was conducted on 17-19 May 2023 in Hotel Sentro, Legazpi City.
Around 40 attendees participated in the workshop representing the following offices:
- DENR Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Camarines Norte;
- Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Region V;
- Environmental Management Bureau Region V and Provincial Environmental Management Unit (PEMU);
- National Economic and Development Authority Bicol;
- Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas-Naga Gold Buying Station;
- Department of Labor and Employment Camarines Norte;
- Philippine Statistics Authority Region V and Camarines Norte;
- Provincial Government of Camarines Norte; and,
- Paracale Local Government Unit.
After Undersecretary Leones’ welcome remarks, Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer Mr. Antonio España of the Provincial Government of Camarines Norte (PGCN) shared a message of support for the planetGOLD Philippines’ project activities in terms of addressing mercury pollution in the province. This was followed by Paracale Municipal Administrator Mr. Arnold Balon who emphasized ensuring the sustainability of the efforts of the planetGOLD Philippines by strengthening engagement with local policy-makers through the Sangguniang Bayan of Paracale.
The three-day activity featured discussions and presentations on the following:
- Overview of the planetGOLD Philippines and Project Updates by Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) Philippines National Project Manager Abigail Ocate;
- The Code of Risk-mitigation for Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Engaging in Formal Trade Code-planetGOLD version by AGC Philippines National Investment Specialist Kristal Jaylo-Bautista;
- The Philippine ASGM Sector: Policies and Regulations by MGB Region V Engineer Emilio Bulalacao, Jr.;
- Overview of the ASGM Sector in the Bicol Region by MGB Region V Geologist Yancey Seve Guinto;
- Stories from the field: The Paracale Minahang Bayan Small-scale Mining Community by Abigail Ocate;
- Voices of Women Miners in Paracale by Gender Consultant Jacklyn Belo-Enricoso; and,
- The Rapid Health and Environmental Assessment in Paracale, Camarines Norte by Department of Health (DOH) Engr. Jocelyn Soria and East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) Dr. John Paul Ner.
The participants engaged in productive discussions and interactive sessions, exploring various aspects of the ASGM sector, including environmental impact mitigation, occupational health and safety, formalization, access to finance and technologies, market opportunities for responsibly sourced gold, and the different challenges faced by the sector. By the end of the workshop, the participants were able to craft a stakeholder map, a stocktaking document of existing government programs for ASGM, a collaborative output on the different challenges of the ASGM sector facilitated through a World Cafe activity, and action plans of each government agency to address identified challenges and further develop the sector.
To summarize, AGC Philippines National Assistant Project Manager Michelle Manza synthesized the major highlights of the discussions:
- Small-scale miners are “invisible” in terms of inclusion in national and local data since they are not registered in their localities through birth certificates. Facilitating access to one of the basic rights of a Filipino citizen–the right to a legal identity–might be one of the most important, but the most overlooked in ASGM communities. Locating the small-scale miners and identifying who they are will open the door to a number of possibilities in terms of the delivery of the programs and services that the government has developed.
- There are existing programs and policies that can be beneficial to miners, but these need to be aligned and synergized among different agencies. Policies must also be revisited to reflect the current nuances in the communities and to ensure inclusivity.
- Gender issues in ASGM remain unexplored in the province. While different organizations, such as the AGC, have produced studies on this, a more in-depth assessment is needed, preferably initiated by government agencies.
- Mercury use in Camarines Norte remains rampant, but political will has been identified as one of the main factors in addressing this challenge. Identifying Champions within the public sector will help advance the efforts to address this challenge.
- Activities such as the policy workshop should be continued and sustained to ensure that the recommendations developed will be implemented and institutionalized.
The activity ended with short messages from Engr. Bulalacao of MGB Region V and Dr. Arnel Francisco of PGCN. They both highlighted the importance of continuing the collaborative partnerships built during the activity for the improvement of the lives of the small-scale miners in their province.
We are looking forward to the aspect of environmental protection and assisting the miners in partnering with us to declare an area as a Minahang Bayan. We anticipate the cooperation and support of other agencies in fulfilling our mandate. A concerted effort is necessary, and it's beneficial that you are here, as planetGOLD Philippines facilitates the governor's program. This provides a venue for strengthening collaboration among various agencies for the advancement of the small-scale mining sector and the aspirations associated with it. NESTOR FRANZ FORTUNO, OIC, PENR Officer Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Camarines Norte
We advocate for the safeguarding and well-being of informal workers. Small-scale miners hold a special place in the heart of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Our goal is to unite our efforts in ensuring decent job opportunities, positively influencing the lives of small-scale miners and their families, and addressing the persistent issue of poverty.
Through this workshop, we have successfully aligned and explored potential collaborations among agencies. We have discussed how we can pool our resources and efforts cohesively, preventing wastage or redundancy. In other words, we are striving for a unified direction that guides these agencies toward making a meaningful impact on the lives of small-scale miners RENALYN ALANO, Labor and Employment Officer, Department of Labor and Employment - Camarines Norte
While ASGM in Camarines Norte dates back to pre-colonial times, the majority of mining communities still operate informally, exposing miners to different hazardous working conditions, including the illegal use of toxic chemicals such as mercury. A baseline study conducted by the AGC through the planetGOLD Philippines Project showed that miners rarely use personal protective equipment in ASGM activities. Chemical management and disposal also take a backseat during gold processing. All these practices add weight to the challenges in formalizing their operations, apart from the tedious and expensive facilitation of government documentary requirements for securing permits.
In the province of Camarines Norte alone, the MGB Region V reports that there are two (2) declared Minahang Bayan areas, five (5) approved small-scale mining contracts, and 25 pending petitions for Minahang Bayan declaration. These figures alone show the thriving industry of ASGM in the province–a testament to the urgent need to develop the sector while safeguarding the environment and promoting the welfare of small-scale miners and communities involved.
The planetGOLD Philippines Project remains steadfast in its commitment to address key issues linked to continued mercury use in Paracale, Camarines Norte, through its four-pronged approach: formalization; access to finance and markets; better technologies and techniques; and, communication and knowledge management. The policy workshop series will continue its fourth and last leg in the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year–consolidating the inputs from the provincial workshops and bringing it to the national level for discussion and finalization.
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.
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