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Small-scale mining may be sustainable in CamNorte town

WORKPLACE. The work area of the small-scale mining---on the lower right hand the entrance to the tunnel has been covered for a while since the cease and desist order was issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. above the covered tunnel is a contraption used to haul rocks out of the tunnel using a pulley, while on the upper left side is the kitchen. Juan Escandor Jr.

By Juan Escandor Jr. PANGANIBAN, Camarines Norte---Subsistence mining activities or mining on small-scale with not more than 20 but less than 50 persons involved proved to be sustainable in this second-class municipality at the northeastern part of Camarines Norte, if undisturbed verdant hills and mountains with vegetation are the proofs. Sarah Marie P. Aviado, municipal environment and natural resources officer of Panganiban, said the town had been known for iron and gold 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 sustain its green vegetation unlike in areas where large-scale open pit mining is allowed.” Panganiban was originally called Mambulao with the root word bulao which pertains to the distinct reddish color of the soil rich in iron mineral, according to Bicol historian Prof. Danilo M. Gerona. “The association of the name Mambulao with gold apparently came later as the town was earlier on identified only with iron. It was only in the later part of the seventeenth century that the name was increasingly associated with gold upon the discovery of the precious metal,” Gerona said. He said the abundance of gold in 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-size statue of chicken with 12 chicks mounted on the platter all made of pure gold. 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 was descendant of Doña Ponay,” Gerona said. He said the economic frenzy which erupted as a consequence of the emerging gold and iron mining industry attracted horde of migrants to the town in the 16th century 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,” Gerona said. He said the mining industry in Panganiban continued to be vibrant at the end of the Spanish period where British investors like Peele, Hubbell & Co. took interest. “The mining industry in Mambulao in the second half of the nineteenth century promised profits for investors, and employment for the residents not only of the town but of the neighboring municipalities in the region, sparking an era of massive in-migration,” Gerona said. Aviado 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 the village of Luklukan, where the Bicol Mail made an actual visit and more than a hundred subsistence miners operate, the surrounding area remains green with coconut and other indigenous trees standing firmly. Wilfredo Sapalaran, 54, 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, the pieces being brought outside for selection. Sapalaran said the shallowest they could go is 24 feet and the deepest they could go is 230 feet, depending on the potential of gold deposited on the rock. He said as they go deeper they are aided with a blower to supply them with air. He said plant trees after the operation of the small-scale mine which could occupy at a minimum of 50 square meters of a mountain. “You cannot see a mountain stripped of trees here unlike in other areas where mining is rampant and the mountains are made bare.” Sapalaran said if they are fortunate to mine high-grade gold ore, one could earn P10,000 in less than one month of work. On regular basis, he said he earns at least P5,000 a month. Evelyn España, 50, a financier of a small-scale gold mining operation, said that investing in a gold mining venture would at least require P200,000 capital with no assurance of the return of investment while the prevailing price of gold is P1,700 per gram. Aviado said to make the small-scale mining industry sustainable, the local government unit of 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 the 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 within 2017. Mendoza said it will boost the 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 by the existing technology, aside from being free of the use of mercury and cyanide. For the meantime, Panganiban Mayor Ricarte Padilla on Thursday (Feb. 16) had met with Environment Sec. Gina Lopez to ask for reconsideration regarding the cease and desist order against the small-scale mining activities in Camarines Norte. Padilla said Lopez has initially agreed to reconsider the lifting of 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 submit immediately 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 said.

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