Small-scale mining: A 3-decade industry that kills

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Local governments benefit from it, too, in the form of votes and informal taxation

MANILA, Philippines – For three decades now, massive small-scale mining in Compostela Valley has enriched residents but also caused their deaths.

Child labor is a key issue in this business.

Parents allow their children to mine, and kids as young as 12 years old earn as much as P15,000 per payday from laboring in the mines.

In remote mining areas in Pantukan, site of Thursday’s deadly landslide that killed at least 25 people and left 100 missing, a bottle of beer sells for P120, said a military officer we interviewed last year. “It’s expensive because it’s a tough ride to the area and also because the residents there could afford it,” he said.

Pantukan is the site of a similar landslide that occurred on Good Friday in April last year, which caused the death of at least 26 people.

The national government after that recommended that residents be barred from living in the mining barangays of that town.

In an interview we had with Gov. Arturo Uy  during our visit in May 2011, he said at least 40,000 residents of Compostela Valley are involved in small-scale mining.

Gold is mined in nine towns, including Pantukan, according to Uy. Compostela Valley is a relatively new province, created only in 1998, but small-scale minining in the area began in the early 1980s, according to Uy.

When he assumed office in 2007, Uy said he suspended mining operations in the province for 60 days, during which local executives made an inventory of all the mining tunnels and shanties in the areas.

The provincial government then imposed a “no habitation policy” in critical areas, but this was continuously violated over the years.

For a long time, the local government failed to regulate the mining sites in the province.

Votes, money

Part of the reason is politics: the poor communities that thrive in mining are also the biggest sources of votes. They don’t even pay taxes, and at one point Uy resorted to asking “donations” from the small miners – P15 per a bag of gold that they mine.

In 2010 alone, Uy said the “donations” generated P20 million in just one mining site alone.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told DZMM on January 5 that the area where the landslide occurred has been identified in geohazard maps as highly susceptible to landslides.

He urged local government units to stop issuing small-scale mining permits.

Locals have been repeatedly warned of the dangers according to Paje. “Small-scale mining is highly dangerous, highly pollutive and very difficult to regulate.”

Paje said the he has already ordered an immediate geological assessment of  the area because “we also do not want to endanger the rescuers.” – with reports from Glenda M. Gloria/

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