Gold mining in 1859

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By A. Paulita Roa

Past Speaks

Sunday, October 14, 2012


SEVERAL weeks ago, I featured in this column the brief visit of the British sea captain and explorer, Thomas Forrest, to Cagayan in 1775. More than 80 years later, in 1859, Sir John Bowring went on a mission to Manila and across the country with the purpose of developing British trade with the Philippines.

Aside from being knighted by his monarch, Bowring was a scholar linguist who spoke fluent Spanish and Chinese. He was a political economist and a prolific writer. He was given high honors in Siam and a number of European countries and was the governor of Hong Kong and the British representative to Peking. I recently came upon his book in our community library at the Archaeological Studies Program in UP Diliman titled "A Visit to the Philippine Islands" published by the Filipiniana Book Guild in 1963.

In Chapter 17 of Bowring's book, he wrote about the state of mining in the country at the time of his visit in 1859. I find this interesting because our mining industry today is mired with many controversial issues that include the heavy pollution of our rivers and bays, the murder of anti-mining advocates and the torching of heavy mining equipment. Plus the recent withdrawal of the huge financial support of tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan to his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, due to the anti-mining stand of Ateneo that is clearly a big slap to his position as the head of Philex Mining.

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However, 153 years ago, Bowring wrote that the mining laws in this country, known as the "Reglamento de Minas," were very liberal. It allows concessions to be made by any person, Spaniard, Indian (Filipino), mestizo, naturalized or established foreigner who shall discover and report the discovery of a mine and undertake to work on it. Colonial officials and ecclesiastics are excluded from this privilege.
The work must be entered upon in ninety days under certain conditions; four months of continued suspension, or eight months of interrupted labor, within the year bring the loss of conceded privilege. There must not be less than eight laborers employed. The mines are subjected to inspection by the mining department. The mining regulations were published by Captain (?) General Claveria in January, 1846 (p.175).

Gold in the Philippines is produced by washing and digging. In several provinces, it is found in the rivers, and the natives are engaged in washing their deposits. The rivers of Caraballo, Camarines and Misamis, and the mountains of Caraga and Zebu, are the most productive. Many Indian families support themselves by washing the river sands, and in times of heavy rains, gold is found in the streets of some pueblos when the floods have passed (pp. 175 - 176).

The Misamis river mentioned here by Bowring is puzzling since in the 1775 report of Capt. Thomas Forrest, he wrote explicitly that Epunan (Iponan) and Cagayan (Cagayan de Oro) rivers were among the few that abound with gold. I have yet to know about a Misamis river here in Misamis Oriental or in Misamis Occidental and if there is, then, I stand corrected. What is clear though is that the Iponan and Cagayan rivers are both located in Misamis Province. He may have obtained his information from a Spaniard who was not too familiar with the geography of Mindanao for in the course of his travel throughout the country, he was always in the company of spanish colonial officials.

Bowring further wrote that the Spaniards have not penetrated far into the interior of Mindanao, which is peopled by a race of Indians (Lumads), said not to be hostile but being frequently at war with the more formidable Mahommedans (Muslims). That gold dust was the instrument of exchange in the interior of Mindanao, and was carried about in bags for the ordinary purposes of life (pp. 176 and 222). He was amazed to see the indifference of the Spanish colonial officials with regards to their open acknowledgment that there are many places in the Philippines that are rich in gold and other minerals.

So based upon his observations, he came up with several factors why the mining industry was neglected by the colonial government – the ruggedness of the rocks (?), the thickness of the forest jungles, the indolence of the natives (let me add the indifference of the Spanish officials), the absence of an intelligent direction and sufficient pecuniary resources and not providing good roads leading to the mining areas and the necessary machinery for gold extraction.

This was the state of the gold mining industry in the 19th century. Today, we are faced with a different set of problems that are hounding this industry. I do not pretend to know all the mining issues and problems except for what I read in the national dailies. All I know is that the Philippines is blessed with a great abundance of gold and other minerals and that if these are properly extracted without harming our environment, if the right amount of taxes are paid by the miners to our government, this will in turn greatly benefit the communities where these mines are located as well as regularly bring billions of pesos to the coffers of our government. I hope this is not a pipe dream, but if we can get our act together with the government, we can make this truly happen.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 15, 2012.

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