Sectoral collaboration eyed to support small-scale miners

DAVAO CITY– The collaboration of sectors from the academe, environment advocates, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other technical institutions is possible to support the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) industry, Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU), said on Thursday.

Adrian Daniel, a mining engineer from Canada and one of the resource persons in the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao, speaks during a press conference on Thursday, November 15, 2012, at the Ateneo de Davao University. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More
Adrian Daniel, a mining engineer from Canada and one of the resource persons in the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao, speaks during a press conference on Thursday, November 15, 2012, at the Ateneo de Davao University. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

In a press conference, Tabora urged representatives of the ASM industry to come together and organize themselves as a strategy to gain the full recognition of society for their contribution to development.

“Despite the fact that they have long existed…Society does not recognize them for the contribution they actually give to the society,” he said.

The AdDU, Tabora noted, will be open to ways of collaborating with other institutions, like the University of the Philippines, and other people who may be interested in giving technical trainings on best mining practices to ASM industry players.

The university hosted the two-day mining conference dubbed “Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Mindanao: Issues, Opportunities and Future Options,” which is a follow-up to the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao last January.

Tabora said the mining conference “showed the reality that most mineral production” in the Philippines comes from small-scale and artisanal miners.

Lawyer Richard Gutierrez of Ban Toxics cited Presidential Decree No. 1899 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, which, according to him, recognizes the small-scale mining sector as a tool for rural development.

The Philippines was the first country in the world to recognize the role of the sector, however, the recognition has not been fully implemented, Gutierrez stressed.

He said the ASM has more direct contribution to the local economy and employment than the large-scale mining companies, as the latter mostly outsource their materials and employees from areas outside the communities where they are operating.

“Back in 1980, when Marcos recognized the sector as a tool for rural development, had the government instituted the right infrastructure to provide technical support and help to the [small] miners, we could have averted the massive mercury problem we are facing now,” Gutierrez said.

He pointed out that the mercury issue of the small-scale mining is a symptom of a bigger problem, and one of the big problems is that the government has neglected the sector.

“Although the small-scale mining sector, as from what we’ve seen in the data presented and in practices as well, has been guilty of using mercury, that doesn’t exonerate large-scale mining from using mercury as well,” Gutierrez said.

The difference between the two is that large-scale mining companies stopped using mercury, while small-scale miners continue the practice, which the latter has adopted from the former, he added.

Giovanni Tapang, of AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People-UP, said the government should strengthen the domestic mining industry that includes ASM as a big part of the whole pie.

He noted that ASM contributes from 50 to 80 percent of the total gold production in the country today.

“Bakit natin papatayin ang maliliit na minero natin kung ganoon naman pala kalaki ang kontribusyon nila sa ating ekonomiya (Why would we kill the small miners when they have a big contribution to our economy)?” he told reporters.

Tapang agreed with Tabora that one of the root causes of the problems of ASM is the Mining Act of 1995, “which favors foreign mining investment rather than developing the local small-scale mining industry.”

Mettalurgical engineer Adrian Daniel, a resource speaker from Canada, cited alternative methods of ASM that are environment-friendly and have better quality and recovery of gold, such as gravity concentration and the use of salt, water and power.

But more than their needs for technology and the dangers of cyanide and mercury, the intrusion of large-scale mining is far more threatening for artisanal and small-scale miners, Tapang told reporters.

The alternative methods presented are applicable here, Tapang said, but the socio-political situation and the lack of a local mining industry should be considered as reasons also why the technology has not been adopted.

He noted that Executive Order (EO) 79 was an “extreme response of the government to the worsening environmental impacts of mining as it solely blames the ASM while favoring the interests of big foreign companies.”

A small-scale miner at Diwalwal in Compostela Valley, Franco Tito, who attended the mining conference, said the government has long been neglecting them.

“It hurts us so much to be called as “illegal” all the time,” he told reporters, adding that he once told a senator: “If we are illegal, help us to become legal. If our practices are wrong, then teach us what is right.”

“We will not fight with the large-scale mining companies, but the government should help develop the small-scale miners,” he said in Cebuano.

EO 79, which President Benigno Aquino II issued last July, states that concerned government agencies shall conduct training and capacity building measures in the form of technical assistance for small-scale mining cooperatives and associations. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)