Last 15-16 November 2012, the Ateneo de Davao University sponsored a forum of Artisanal and Small Scale mining (ASM). Its keynote speaker was Mining Engr. Adrian Daniel from Canada; he had been engaged in helping free small-scale mining of environmentally-hurtful mercury use in Guyana. It was attended by small scale miners coming from all over the country.
The conference for me was very enlightening. For one, I learned that 70% of the gold production in this country is the result of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining. I learned that that production can be significantly increased and the environment spared considerable damage if the small scale miners would be helped to acquire appropriate technology. But I also learned that there is little technical and financial support given to small scale miners despite the “The People’s Small Scale Mining Act of 1991” (RA 7076), which mandates that such assistance be given (Sec. 4.d). This is probably because large-scale miners, who are largely foreigners (thanks to the Philippine Mining Act of 1995!), don’t like small-scale miners, who are largely Filipino and poor. They consider them pests, fit for eradication. I learned that it is not beyond large-scale mining to undertake strong-arm measures to illegally eliminate the small-scale miners. Clearly, here, “legality” is just a veneer for advantage in extractive potential; “legality” protects illegality. Even as they control large tracts of land legally for minerals exploration, just taking over the small-scale mining operations of Filipinos eliminates the need to actually explore. Footage of how the dwellings of small-scale miners were unceremoniously destroyed by heavy equipment of a foreign mine was shown; incredibly, this kind of strong-arm anti-ASM activity is protected, if not actually implemented, by the military. Bring violence and death on the small-scale miners, succeed in scaring them away, and their mines become yours! That’s disgusting. I learned that the small-scale miners wish now to organize themselves into a nationwide organization.
Just around the time ADDU was holding this ASM Conference, Central Bank (CB) was decrying the fact that the miners were no longer bringing their gold to CB but selling it illegally for higher returns to others – including foreigners. The culprit seen was a tax imposed on the sale of gold. Thus, the CB suggested that it might be more in the national interest for the Department of Finance to convince Congress to eliminate the tax. That would eliminate the gold smuggling out of the country. At the ADDU ASM Conference, an official representative of the CB participated to convince ASMers to sell their gold to CB.
Personally, I couldn’t help feeling the irony. This is the CB of a country that largely looks to small scale miners as illegal and through such as EO 79 casts its lot with large scale miners, now officially asking the small-scale miners for their product. Once again, we may think of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The Philippines is interested in the golden eggs. But it spits on the goose. Poor goose!
Very interesting from the talk of Engr. Daniel was the fact that if we could only help the ASMers with their techniques of production, we would not only eliminate the use of toxic mercury, but treble the gold production.
Mercury use is an environmental no-no! It does not degenerate. When it is dumped in the rivers and lakes, it is absorbed by lower forms of life, then ingested by higher, then entered into the food chain. Small fish with mercury are eaten by large fish that are eaten in turn by humans. The result is brain damage. Footage of Minomata Disease caused by mercury was petrifying. This is why internationally there is a ban on mercury use.
What Engr. Daniel explained was if you take ore, then process it with mercury, you can recover 30% of the gold in the ore. If however you properly use a tested cyanide process you can recover more than 90% of the gold in the ore. With this process you eliminate the mercury and produce three golden eggs instead of just one. That should make CB smile. Meanwhile, cyanide, properly treated, does not hurt the environment.
So if the country is interested both in gold and in the environment, why not help the ASMers? First, they should be supported in their desire for recognition through a national organization. Second, they should be supported by helping them learn and practice appropriate technology for environmentally friendly mining. Here, ADDU’s College of Engineering is studying how it can help in ongoing collaboration with Engr. Daniel. Third, they should be defended from the bullying and illegal demolition-and-destruction methods of the “legal” miners. Fourth, a new law on Mining that does not disadvantage Filipinos needs passage. Finally, the honorable Commander-in-Chief should order the military to defend Filipinos in their own country. It is unacceptable that our military is training its guns on women and children of the Philippines – and pulling the trigger.