Wednesday, February 22, 2017

CamNorte town shows how small-scale mining is sustainable
By John Mark Escandor

JOSE PANGANIBAN, Camarines Norte, Feb. 21 (PNA)--Subsistence mining activities or mining done small-scale with no less than 20 but not more than 50 persons involved has proven to be sustainable in this second-class municipality at the northeastern part of Camarines Norte, with the undisturbed verdant hills and mountains with vegetation as the most evident proof.

Sarah Marie P. Aviado, municipal environment and natural resources officer of Jose Panganiban, said the town had been known for its iron and gold reserves even before Spain colonized the Philippines.

“It is really safe to say that small-scale mining had been going on here for centuries ago but you see, our mountains and hills are able to sustain its green vegetation unlike in areas where large-scale open pit mining is allowed,” she said.

Bicol historian Danilo M. Gerona said Jose Panganiban was originally called Mambulao, with the root word bulao pertaining to the distinct reddish color of the soil rich in iron mineral.

“How Mambulao came to be associated with gold apparently came later as the town was earlier on identified only with iron,” he said.

Gerona said it was only in the later part of the 17th century when the name became increasingly associated with gold when the precious metal was discovered in the place,” Gerona said.

He said the abundance of gold in Jose Panganiban town since centuries ago can be shown in the story of a legendary figure named Doña Ponay, who owned a mining site in the 16th century and gave Queen Isabela of Spain a precious gift of gold.

“Doña Ponay sent Queen Isabela of Spain a life-sized statue of chicken with 12 chicks mounted on a platter all made of pure gold,” said Gerona.

He said this story is probably widely known because it was even mentioned by the first American schools superintendent William Freer in the letter he sent to a man he believed to be a descendant of Doña Ponay.

Gerona said the economic frenzy which erupted as a consequence of the emerging gold and iron mining industry had attracted hordes of migrants to the town during the 16thcentury Spanish period.

“A local writer estimated that in the years 1752-54, this town was populated by about 60,000 inhabitants. Although the population estimate was apparently exaggerated, it nevertheless suggests that the town was undergoing a rapid influx of outsiders, who were the ones who benefitted from the mining industry,” he said.

He said the mining industry in Jose Panganiban continued to be vibrant at the end of the Spanish period when British investors like Peele, Hubbell & Co. took interest in the island.

“The mining industry in Mambulao in the second half of the nineteenth century promised profits for investors and employment not only for the town’s residents but also of the neighboring municipalities in the region, sparking an era of massive in-migration,” Gerona said.

Avaido said through the years, the town has not experienced any untoward incident that can be attributed to the mining practices of the small-scale miners in the town.

In Barangay (village) Luklukan, where more than a hundred subsistence miners operate, the surrounding area has remained green with coconut and other indigenous trees standing upright.

Wilfredo Sapalaran, 54, a subsistence miner, narrated that they only make an opening of about one square meter then start digging until they reach the hard rock, examine it for gold vein and continue tunneling while chipping the rock whose pieces are brought outside for selection.

He said the shallowest they could go is 24 feet and the deepest is 230 feet, depending on the potential of gold deposited on the rock.

“As we go deeper, we are aided with a blower to supply us with air,” said Sapalaran.

He said after the operation of the small-scale mine, which could occupy minimum of 50 square meters of a mountain, they plant trees. “You cannot see a mountain stripped of trees here unlike in other areas where mining is rampant, the mountains are made bare.”

Sapalaran said if they are fortunate to mine high-grade gold ore, he could earn PHP10,000 in less than one month of work. On a regular basis, he earns at least PHP5,000 a month.

Evelyn España, 50, a financier of a small-scale gold mining operation, said investing in a gold mining venture would at least require PHP200,000 capital with no assurance of a return in investment while the prevailing price of gold in PHP1,700 per gram.

Aviado said to make the small-scale mining industry sustainable, the local government unit of Jose Panganiban has tied up with the Department of Science and Technology and researchers from the University of the Philippines to establish a mercury- and cyanide-free gold processing plant.

Herman D. Mendoza, mining engineer from UP and program leader, said the gold processing plant will cater to the small-scale miners and will be operated by the LGU of Panganiban anytime in 2017.

He said it will boost small-scale gold production because the technology to be used in the processing plant will have a high recovery of 80-95 percent compared to only 40 percent recovery through the existing technology, aside from being free of the use of mercury and cyanide.

For the meantime, Jose Panganiban Mayor Ricarte Padilla met last week with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to ask for reconsideration on the cease and desist order issued against the small-scale mining activities in Camarines Norte.

Padilla said Lopez has initially agreed to reconsider lifting the cease and desist order with the crafting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will be used as guide to permit the operation of small-scale mining in the town.

He said Lopez promised to sign the MOU if he could immediately submit the deed of assignment from claim owners or the entities with approved mineral claims in the area.

“If we can submit the deed of assignment from claim owners or their consent to appropriate certain areas from their claims, Secretary Lopez will sign the MOU,” Padilla added. (PNA) FPV/GVR/JME/CBD