By FLORO L. MERCENE
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) is urging the government to take a tougher stance against illegal small-scale mining (SSM) activities in the country in the wake of the Ucab, Itogon, Benguit disaster.
SSM’s do not obey the same stringent safety practices required of legitimate large-scale mining operators. The SSM victims in Ucab are part of the illegal gold mining activities near an abandoned bunkhouse of Benguet Corporation, a member of COMP.
The area is but a few kilometers away from the company’s Balatoc and Dalicno underground mines in Itogon. According to Benguet Corp., it had relayed numerous letters to the SSM operators in Ucab ordering them to vacate the area. It had been identified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as a geohazard zone prone to landslides.
Nevertheless, Benguet Corp., BC along with Philex Mining Corp. deployed their rescue teams in partnership with the MGB-Cordillera Autonomous Region to participate in the search, rescue, and retrieval operations of Ucab mining victims.
All other COMP member-companies in Northern and Central Luzon also mobilized their rescue and relief teams in their respective host mining communities.
MGB has estimated that more than 60 percent of the gold mined in the country is from unregulated SSM operations. Apart from endangering the lives of poor mining workers and destroying the environment, illegal SSMs do not pay taxes and are the breeding ground of other social ills, such as child labor, prostitution, illegal drugs, gun-running, and the use of banned-toxic chemicals.
While we are on the subject of mining, our leaders should finally decide whether to allow the full exploitation of our mineral resources by foreigners, despite of our sad lessons from past mining disasters.
There are simply too many mouths to feed, and mining could provide employment and source of income to many.
The volcanic nature of our geography has blessed us with valuable metallic minerals. We are third in gold reserves, fourth in copper, and fifth in nickel in the world.
Strict compliance with the law to protect the environment could be achieve if mining companies are sure they cannot get away with violations.