Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Gacad: The challenge of illegal small-scale mining

Ziggy Zaggy

THE recent pronouncements on illegal small-scale mining and quarrying as a result of the recent tragedies in the Cordilleras and Naga City in Cebu due to Typhoon Ompong and the rainy weather have drawn mixed reactions from the public. The ban on quarrying in the country has since been lifted. The ban remains in effect only in the province of Cebu. Why so? Because a total ban will not cut it. Prices of quarry and aggregate materials all over will soar considerably. Such will affect the construction sector. In fact, a ban on quarrying will have a very negative effect on the cement manufacturing industry. Raw materials for cement production are quarry materials. Without quarries, we cannot produce the volume of raw materials needed to manufacture cement. Without cement, what happens to "Build, build, build?" Maybe we can import cement? Yes, we can do that. But the low price of imported cement will only last while there is a surplus abroad. How long will that surplus last? As it is, importation is not sustainable and in the long run may mean higher prices of cement.

The landslide in Itogon, Benguet has resulted to an announced suspension of illegal small-scale mining (ssm) operations, including the cancellation of previously issued Temporary Small Scale Mining Contracts. Now come the National Task Force Mining Challenge (NTFMC). The task force will implement the order of suspension and monitor that ssm operations are put to a halt. The "small" miners are crying foul and are appealing the decision. However, for now, the order stands and in the next few days, the NTFMC will proceed to ssm areas and make sure that no illegal ssm activities are in operation. The objective here is to prevent further loss of life from illegal, unregulated and unsystematic mining. Again the question is - for how long? Is this sustainable? How much will government spend for the enforcement officers to ensure a long-term stop to those illegally involved in the trade? Accordingly, the people that were operating the blasted adits in Kias, Baguio City sometime in February of this year have gone back to their old working places when the enforcers already left the area. Can government afford to assign enforcers in ALL ssm areas in the Cordillera 24/7, 365 days year in and year out? Practicality? Sustainability?

As I have previously written, "guarding" the ssm operators to prevent them from operating illegally will be a total failure. What will work is to make sure that ssm operators do not have access to explosives. The use of explosives in ssm activities is not allowed by existing regulations. Therefore, explosives and its accessories should not even be found in ssm areas.

For as long as the small-scale miner has access to explosives, the small-scale miner will be able to produce a considerable volume of ore. The large ore volume will then undergo mineral processing to obtain the gold values. Mineral processing large ore volumes requires large volumes of chemicals also. Without the volume, the small scale miner will not earn as much. Without the ore volume, the small scale miner will not spend 24/7 in the ssm area. Without the ore volume, the small scale miner will not use illegally sourced chemicals for the mineral processing to recover the values. Without the ore volume, the population of ssm operators will drastically reduce.

As such, the number of small-scale miners exposed to geologic hazards, unsanitary working conditions and dangerous locations will considerably decrease. Eliminating explosives use in ssm operations will reduce the volume of ore available. Eliminating explosives use in ssm operations will reduce the use of chemicals that may pollute the environment. Eliminating explosives use in ssm operations will reduce the population of illegal small scale miners, and thus, reduce the number of small scale miners exposed to dangerous locations. In short, eliminating explosives use in ssm operations WILL save more lives!

The question beckons - who is listening? Your guess is as good as mine!

"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country." ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." ~ Thomas Jefferson

"Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish - too much handling will spoil it." ~ Lao Tzu


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