LAST week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered a review of government policy on illegal mining operations on Mt. Diwalwal in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, after a dynamite blast on October 27 caused the collapse of a tunnel in a small-scale mine, leaving at least 18 miners killed. Many more are missing and are presumed dead, but exact figures are not available.
This is not the first mining accident on Diwalwal, where small-scale operations conducted by various groups—assorted fortune hunters but also former communist rebels, Muslim insurgents, soldiers and criminal gangs—?have been notoriously, and fatally, unsafe.
Diwalwal?s rich gold reserves were first discovered by lowlanders in the 1970s, and it became a gold-rush site, attracting thousands of prospectors from throughout the country, in the 1980s. Since then, the area has been known as a Wild West, where the government has been unable to impose its sovereignty. Instead, hundreds of illegal small-scale mines proliferate, operated by competing claimants who sporadically engage in gunbattles with their rivals. The mine operators use primitive and environmentally harmful mining technology and build fragile tunnels that are constantly in danger of collapse. Many of the workers are minors, who risk their lives in those tunnels. The following article, written in 1995 describes the life-threatening working conditions that young miners face everyday on Diwalwal.
In 2002, the government took over the minesite in an effort to ?rationalize? mining operations and to allow mine workers to share in more of the wealth generated there. The environment department signed service contracts that in effect legitimized the operations of subsistence miners. But three years later, the problem remains hanging, with the legality of those contracts now being questioned. Meanwhile, as the recent tunnel collapse showed, not enough has been done to improve mine safety and to diminish the hazards faced by workers.
Read on at pcij.org.