The House of Representatives approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to declare the municipality of Kibungan in Benguet a mining-free zone.
House Bill 8882, principally authored by Rep. Ronald Cusalan (Lone District, Benguet), seeks to prohibit all forms of mining operations and activities, whether large-scale or small-scale, within the jurisdiction of Kibungan.
All valid and existing contracts, exploration, permits, licenses, technical agreements, and mineral production sharing agreements in accordance with Republic Act 7942 or the "Philippine Mining Act of 1995" covering any area of the municiaplity at the date of effectivity of the measure shall be recognized and remain valid until its termination or expiration.
However, the government shall not issue new exploration permits or similar other agreements within the jurisdiction of the province.
Exploration activities and mining operations under existing exploration permits, mineral agreements, and other similar agreements shall be undertaken immediately by the permittee or contractor.
Small-scale mining contracts shall also be cancelled upon the effectivity of the measure. Affected contractors have one year from the time the measure takes into effect to undertake rehabilitation, regeneration, and reforestation of mineralized areas, slope stabilization of mined-out and tailing covered areas, watershed development, and water preservation.
Existing quarry permits issued by the provincial government of Benguet at the time of the effectivity of the measure shall be recognized. Thereafter, quarry permits issued by the provincial governor shall be regularly reviewed and monitored by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
A quarry permit shall immediately be cancelled by the provincial governor upon the recommendation of the DENR when, in the guise of quarrying activities, the holder of the permit engages in activities that require exploration permits, mineral agreement, or mining contract.
Violators of the measure shall face penalty of imprisonment of six months to 12 years and a fine of P1 million to P10 million.
In the explanatory note of HB 4387, one of the measures consolidated into HB 8882, Cosalan appealed for the protection of Kibungan against mining. He said that Kibungan is home to the indigenous tribe of the Kankana-ey, their livelihood, and their unique heritage.
He further said that RA 7942 proclaims watersheds, forest reserves, plantations of valuable crops, and waterways—all of which are present in Kibungan—as areas closed to mining.
"Hence, the indigenous peoples of Kibungan express their opposition to large-scale mining operations within their ancestral domain. The Kankana-ey is dependent of agricultural production as our main source of living. Large-scale mining also causes ground sinking, various illness due to pollution and dangerous chemicals used and produced in the mining process, depletion of water resources, and destruction of the environment as a whole," Cosalan said.
Kibungan has been recognized as an ancestral domain of indigenous peoples of the area by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) with the award of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain title (CADT) CCAR_KIB-0240-016.
"With the efforts of the Kibungan Kankana-ey Tribe and the local government of Kibunga, the Ten-Year Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Protection Plan (ADSDPP) was formulated in November 2006. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) of Kibungan, which was based on the ADSDPP, spells out the uses of the ancestral land as primarily for agriculture, cultivation of high-value crops as primary source of livelihood, communal water shed, communal forest, pasture lands, cemetery, parks and institutional purposes, among others. Kibungan supply indigenous rice and highland vegetable to Regions I, II, and the National Capital Region," Cosalan explained.
In addition, Kibungan boasts of sceneries of distinct cultural and ancestral heritage such as the Les-eng rice terraces bordered by solid rock formations, the century-old Palina rice terraces that turn golden yellow near harvest time, and the rocky mountain walls which are popular destination of local and international tourists and trekkers. The area also houses watersheds, forest reserves, public cemeteries, waterways, and historic sites.