One day in the life of a gold miner

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Thursday, June 19, 2014


VICENTE Mahilum dreamed of living inside a house made of gold six years ago.

The 50-year-old father of eight went to Barangay Cambang-ug, Toledo City and asked his relatives there if there was any way he could fulfill his dream.

They told him to head to Sitio Buswang if he wanted to find gold. So Vicente, with his two sons Joseph, six, and Marino, 13, became miners.

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Out-of-school

“Reality was a far cry from my dream,” said Vicente with a smile, exposing his missing teeth. “I still have a small house. But my hopes for my children are more precious than gold.”

Marino and Joseph want to be law enforcers someday, but achieving their ambitions seems far-fetch.

Marino did not go beyond grade 3, while his younger brother only finished kindergarten.

“I want to help my father,” said Marino, explaining why he opted not to continue his studies.

Marino and Joseph extract sand from a pool of mucky water. They use a magnet to separate metal from gold dust on a tin plate with a hollow middle.

Mining is considered hazardous work and the two brothers are among the estimated 250 million child laborers around the world, the World Health Organization reported.

RA 7610

The National Statistics Office said that an estimated 5.492 million children aged five to 17 were working in 2011.

Children in the Philippines are protected by Republic Act (RA) 7610, or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

The law punishes any person “who shall commit any other acts of child abuse, cruelty, or exploitation or to be responsible for other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development.”

Vicente said he allowed his children to work with him because they need money for their daily needs.

“Wa man nako sila tudloi og bati (I’m not teaching them anything bad),” he said.

Cambang-ug Councilman Justiniano Dedera said barangay officials are aware that small-scale mining is the main livelihood of most residents in Buswang, a village hidden between mountains and rivers.

“(But) I feel sorry for them because that is their only means of livelihood,” he said in Cebuano.

He added that the area is more prone to landslides and flooding with the presence of illegal activities like mining and sand and gravel extraction.

Risky

Engr. Edgar Lagarnia of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) 7 said illegal small-scale mining is risky because most workers are not trained in proper mining procedures and they do not have proper tools.

MGB 7 has the power to issue a cease-and-desist order to illegal operators, he said.

RA 7076, or the People’s Small-scale Mining Act, raises the requirements and authorizes the MGB to designate so-called “minahang bayan” in places not prone to landslides and floods. The law also favors mining cooperatives, which are easier to regulate.

“There are hazards so there is a need to regulate,” he said.

According to MGB, there are about 300,000 small-scale miners in the provinces of Cebu, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Norte, Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province, Kalinga, Zambales, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Rizal, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Masbate, Eastern Samar, Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Negros Occidental, Surigao del Norte, Surigao Del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Zamboanga Del Sur, Zamboanga Del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.

Dangers

The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that child laborers are “susceptible to all the dangers faced by adult workers when placed in the same situation.”

It further states that the “work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child laborers even more strongly.”

“The results of lack of safety and health protection can often be more devastating and lasting for them,” ILO reported. “It can result in more fatal and non-fatal accidents, permanent disabilities/ill health, and psychological/behavioral/emotional damage.”

Vicente said he gives his sons antibiotics when they have a fever. He said he cannot afford to bring them to the public hospital.

The gold dust is melted in a furnace. The finished product is worth P1,000 per gram.

The owner of the lot that the Mahilums mine will handle the sale of the gold.

For their work, Vicente said he and his sons earn around P200 to P300 in a week.

He said he is glad Marino and Joseph understand their plight.

“Tiil nako na sila ug kamot (They are my hands and feet),” he said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 20, 2014.

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