By John Mark Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY, April 28 (PNA) - The provincial board of Camarines Sur has declared the whole town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur, as quarrying- and mining-free zone following the death of four small-scale miners on March 22, which exposed mining activities in Barangay Gata in Lahuy Island in the internationally renowned tourism destination.
Board Member Amador Simando authored Ordinance No. 017 Series of 2014 prohibiting all forms of quarrying and mining operations in the entire area of the municipality of Caramoan, citing their destructive effects to the environment.
Promulgated on April 11, the ordinance, however, allows exemption for quarrying in areas recommended and permitted by the provincial government through its concerned agencies for the purpose of clearing clogged water system, flood drainage or quarrying boulders, rocks, sand and gravel as construction materials for domestic purposes.
It declared the immediate cessation of existing quarrying and mining operations and ordered those engaged in utilization or exploitation of other natural resources that may deplete or devastate non-renewable land, water and vegetative resources to cease and desist such operations upon the effectivity of the ordinance.
The ordinance penalizes violators with an imprisonment not exceeding one year or fine not exceeding P5,000 or both at the discretion of the court.
The ordinance came at a time when village officials of Barangay Gata were in the process of applying with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to declare the village as a Minahang Bayan.
Minahang Bayan has been implemented since July 18, 1991 under Republic Act 7076 otherwise known as An Act Creating Peoples Small-Scale Mining Program (PSSMP) and for Other Purposes.
It is covered by a permit given to a community for the operation of small-scale mining which is decided upon by Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) composed of the MGB regional director as chair, governor as vice chair, and representatives from small-scale and large-scale miners and a non-government organization as members.
Theodore Rommel Pestaño, MGB Bicol regional director, said Camarines Sur is now in the process of forming the PMRB.
Pestaño said if there is conflict, the national law will prevail over the local ordinance and a compromise must be reached.
He said the processing of permit for a Minahang Bayan is continuing and being considered while deficiencies in documentary requirements are being prepared.
The MGB Bicol official said it is the PMRB, which they will convene once formed, which will decide on the permit for the Minahang Bayan.
Pestaño said he knew about the provincial ordinance because Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Luis Villafuerte called him up about it.
However, Section VI of the ordinance authorizes the provincial board to declare and set aside peoples small-scale mining areas in sites on-shore suitable for small-scale mining which will be subject to review by the Environment secretary.
Also, the ordinance cited as bases of the mining and quarrying free zone Proclamation No. 291 dated July 20, 1938 that established the Caramoan National Park; Proclamation No. 651 dated Sept. 14, 1995 that adopted Bicols tourism plan; Republic Act 9445 that declared the islands of Lahuy, Cotivas, Guinahuan, Luksuhin, Malibagan, and Masag in Caramoan as tourist zones.
It further cited Executive Order No. 79, series of 2013 that declared tourism development areas and other critical areas, island ecosystem closed to mining application. (PNA)