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Pinoy miners still dying for gold


Since I’ve last covered the gold rush and landslides of Mt. Diwalwal, Compostela Valley in the late eighties for Asiaweek news magazine, the stories of the dead and dying coming out of the mining areas there, had always been the same: determination of hundreds of small miners to find gold -- or die trying.

If you’re someone who’s jobless and so desperate to feed your family and aren’t afraid to take risks digging for gold under the Compostela mountains whose soil is often so soft they could collapse anytime, then you’re probably one of those small miners who are ready to die for gold.

True stories of cops, traders, vendors, hoodlums, renegade soldiers and erring army officers, etc who made hundreds of millions from gold out of the gold-laden, landslide-prone mountains of Compostela, abound everywhere in Davao.

Compostela is a place where you can still find many “rags to riches” stories -- from a few powerful politicians to a number of Davao business tycoons who started out with barely nothing before they discovered the rich “mother lode” of gold beneath the vowels of Mt. Diwalwal and Pantukan mining sites in Compostela in the late sixties.

A recent United Nations report also confirmed that several towns of Compostela Valley are sitting on top of a “mountain of gold” so rich that it’s valued in billions of US dollars based on today’s price of gold in the world market. In fact, one of the world’s biggest gold deposits is found right under the mountains of Compostela, according to the United Nations (UN) report.

Landslides that leave hundreds of miners dead over the years are no longer surprising to us in media who covered this disaster-prone province several times. Government mining officials had already banned small miners from going back to the same mountain areas after a series of earlier deadly landslides. But when things began to quiet down over there, these small miners are back again in full force, digging with their bare hands like mountain rats hunting for the gold ore underground.

With the world price of gold around 1650 US dollars (P75,000) an ounce, it’s a very tempting prospect for people who are desperate enough to risk their lives because it looks so easy to simply dig under a Compostela mountain to find a huge fortune.

A small miner, who gets an ore that produces even just one gram of gold in a typical day, can go home with P5,000 to P7,000 from spot traders in Tagum City, Davao del Norte who sells them at much higher prices to authorized gold dealers in Davao.

The world’s largest producers of gold in 2010 were China with 13.8 percent of world gold production, followed by Australia with 10.2 percent, the US with 9.2 percent, South Africa with 7.6 percent, Russia with 7.5 percent and other minor gold producers including the Philippines, according to 2010 yearbook of Commodity Research Bureau (CRB) used by commodity traders worldwide.

Gold mine production however has been declining in recent years in most gold-producing countries such as South Africa, Australia and the US.

China gold production, on the other hand, surged higher by 7.8 percent to a record 345,000 kilograms, followed far behind by US with only 230,000 kilograms, rising only 3.1 percent year on year.

China is one of the world’s biggest buyers of gold ore coming from Philippine gold mines.

Raw gold ore is imported from world’s gold suppliers like the Philippines and processed into jewelry, bullion and many industrial items by China, making it the biggest gold producer in the world.


By Aurelio A. Pena

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