ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu led the blasting of five illegal small-scale mining operating within the Philippine Military Academy and earlier raided by members of the newly formed National Task Force Mining Challenge (NTFMC).

NTFMC is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera, Philippine Army, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the region.

During the national launching of NMFTC in Baguio City, Cimatu pointed out the need to conduct such measures since these small-scale mining operators have violated mining law.

"We have to blast the entry points and the areas they have dug to ensure the none resurgence of their operations but in a safe manner. I sympathize with this people, I saw how dangerous they operate especially with the use of cyanide which is very harmful. I hope they find another source of living other than this," Cimatu said.

The crackdown on illegal mining is based on special order number 2018-53 dated January 26 creating the task force to strengthen the enforcement of laws against illegal mining and ensuring the filing of ether administrative, civil and criminal charges against the perpetrators and operators.

"This crackdown on illegal mining operating within the area of PMA have been operating for 10-12 years and because of this, we have to implement the law. It may hurt the people operating it but we have to implement the law," added Cimatu.

Cimatu said the blasting of the five areas within the boundary of the academy was legal since it is a timberland site, with areas still being planned to be extended by the academy being within the government lot to be entitled in a separate proclamation by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Mining president Lomino Kaniteng, meanwhile, said they are gearing up for the crackdown of illegal mining in the province.

"We should be ready since I told them they are cracking down illegal mining, then, of course, we have to legalize the operations and we must have to fast-track the minahang bayan because without minahang bayan, there will be no mining," said Kaniteng.

Kaniteng said the small-scale miners are willing to apply for the legalization of their operations.

"They are now willing because the task force means business. They are dead serious in implementing the objective to eliminate illegal mining," Kaniteng said.

He said there are only 10 associations who were granted permit in Tuba and Itogon. The permit was granted before the implementation of the executive order implementing reforms in the Philippine mining sector.

Pursuant to the law, Section 11 requires that small-scale mining operations must be undertaken only within the declared People's Small-Scale Mining Areas or Minahang Bayan.

However, Benguet has not been granted a minahang bayan because of many legal impediments, of which Kaniteng said it was very different to comply with.

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said they will seek for the suspension of the crackdown, as most small-scale miners are applying for minahang bayan.

Small-scale mining is the second economic driver of the province, affecting 23,000 miners of 70 associations and cooperatives.

Palangdan said more than half of the associations are in Itogon with an estimated 12,000 miners.

"If we can show to the government that they are responsible miners, there should be no stoppage of small scale mining," Palangdand said. "They are now trying to obey what is order, we are implementing what the EMB, MGB are ordering us to do."

Palangdan said they are currently documenting activities of small-scale miners involved in tree planting and clean-up activities.