MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a bill declaring Nueva Vizcaya a mining-free province.
House Bill 3667, authored principally by Rep. Carlos Padilla of the lone district of Nueva Vizcaya, now goes to the Senate.
Padilla said there are some companies presently engaged in mining in his province.
There are also individuals doing illegal mining, he said.
Both would have to respect the mandate of the bill, if it becomes a law, he said.
He added that he has no doubt that the Senate would approve the measure, which he said would protect the beauty of the mountains and environment of Nueva Vizcaya.
The bill defines mining as extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials, including large-scale and small-scale mining activities involving exploration, feasibility, development, and processing.
It does not include gathering of sand and gravel.
It provides for penalties for violators. An individual offender would face imprisonment of six to 12 years and a fine of P100,000 to P500,000.
If the violator were a corporation, partnership or association, the officer or officers responsible for the violation would suffer the penalties.
If the offender were an alien, he or she would be deported after imprisonment and payment of fine.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would be mandated to issue implementing rules and regulations.
The provincial government, in coordination with the DENR, would review all mining licenses or agreements and determine those to be terminated and those that may be allowed to continue until such time that the permits may allow.
Last week, the House approved two bills declaring Cagayan de Oro City and Catanduanes mining-free areas.
Another bill, making Eastern Samar another mining-free province, is awaiting third-reading approval.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said there are both legal and illegal miners in his province.
However, the proposed law would not automatically stop the two existing multibillion-peso mining projects in Nueva Vizcaya – the Didipio gold-copper project and the Runruno gold-molybdenum project – as they would still be subjected for review.
Nestled along the remote mountain border of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, the Didipio project is one of the first two large-scale mining projects approved during the Ramos administration under the 1995 Mining Act.
The Didipio venture commenced commercial operation in April last year following nearly two decades of exploration and construction activities.
The Runruno project in Quezon town is expected to start its commercial operation this year.
Their contractors – the Australian firm OceanGold Philippines Inc. for the Didipio project and the British-owned FCF Minerals for the Runruno project – are both holders of financial and technical assistance agreements with the government. – With Charlie Lagasca