A TOTAL of nine Minahang Bayan zones have been approved in Cordillera provinces to help the region recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said on Monday.
Seven initial zones were approved over the course of the year, while Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu cleared another two zones, bringing the total in the region to nine.
The approval of “pocket mine” zones, opened for the conduct of regulated small-scale mining in the towns of Itogon and Bakun in Benguet, the town of Conner in Apayao, and the town of Sagada in Mt. Province, was first announced by Agriculture Secretary William Dar a week prior.
Currently, Benguet has three active Minahang Bayan zones, while the province of Abra was granted one only last week by its provincial mining regulatory board (PMRB).
The two zones recently cleared and approved by Cimatu in Apayao meanwhile are awaiting the official declaration of the Apayao PMRB before starting operations.
The Minahang Bayan system is a way for the government to regulate and control small-scale mining operations and enforce safety measures, following the massive 2018 landslide in Itogon that buried some 80 miners “casting a spotlight on the risks involved in unregulated pocket mining activities.”
Mining in the resource-rich Cordillera region has been a vital part of the region’s economy, which is home to large numbers of miners, both corporate and artisanal. Itogon alone in Benguet is home to at least 10,000 miners.
Alfredo Genetiano, chief of the mine management division of the MGB in the Cordillera region, said that despite the COVID-19 recession and losses in 2020, the overall production of the region’s mines saw a 5.47 percent increase from P9.7 billion in 2019 to P10.24 billion in 2020.