NABUNTURAN, Compostela Valley -- Hundreds of small-scale miners trooped to the Provincial Capitol of Compostela Valley Wednesday to protest the selling of the gold-rich Diwalwal to multinational mining corporations.

Governor Arturo Uy meanwhile ordered for the gates to be closed, and the miners were barred from entering the Capitol grounds. A firetruck was also placed at the entrance gate where several fully-armed policemen and military were stationed.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Mt. Diwata village chief Franco Tito, who led the hundreds of miners, was however allowed to enter. He appeared before the Provincial Board that was conducting a committee hearing on Diwalwal Wednesday morning.

During the session, many board members expressed their support for the Diwalwal miners' cause but admitted that they are just as helpless against the National Government's plan on the area.

Tito said that aside from the National Government's plan to bid out the 8,100 hectare Diwalwal Mineral Reservation Area (DMRA) to multinational companies, the Provincial Board must also look into the involvement of one of their colleagues, Board Member Joselito Brillantes, in the controversial joint operating agreement (JOA) with the Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC).

The JOA entered into by the government's NRDC with the JB Management Mining Corporation (JBMMC) was for the 452.29 hectares of the 729-hectare Diwalwal area.

The 729-hectare Diwalwal area is the area where about 40,000 small-scale miners have been operating since the 1980's and it is within the 8,100-hectare DMRA.

Tito said the JOA was forged and made effective starting March 15, 2010 and will last for 25 years. The signatories to the agreement were NRDC president Melchor Monsod and Brillantes.

Brillantes was absent during Wednesday's session.

Aside from the JOA, Tito said the JBMMC was also awarded another mining area outside the 729-hectare Diwalwal. This, he said, shows just how greedy the JBMMC is in cornering deals with the government to the detriment of the small-scale miners.

Board Member Dexter Lopoz, meanwhile, urged President Benigno Aquino III to listen to the Diwalwal miners and order a comprehensive review of any agreements entered into by the previous administration with the mining corporations.

Deferred

Uy said the Philippine Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) has deferred the scheduled bidding of the DMRA to multinational mining corporations.

It was learned that the bidding was supposed to be on July 30 after it was moved from its original schedule last June.

Tito said he wanted the Provincial Board to come up with a resolution, and addressed to the National Government, expressing their support for the Diwalwal miners.

Tito also asked Uy or any of his representatives to personally address the miners and inform them of the real score. He warned that if they see nothing positive in the latest development, they will have no other choice but to draw their last card -- block a national highway or a bridge.

More miners

Tito said more small-scale miners would be arriving in Nabunturan anytime soon as miners from other mining areas in Southern Mindanao have also joined their cause.

On Wednesday, Tito said members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are also coming to the Davao Region to join the protest action, and added that their number could grow from hundreds to more than 3,000.

With such number, Tito said they will have no problem in blocking any of the national highways or bridges in the Davao Region area.

Another miner said they could even block an airport if they wanted to.

Tito said their protest action could drag on for days, and if the National Government will continue to be deaf and blind to the miners' plea for a fair share in the gold deposits of Diwalwal, Tito said, they can expect nothing less but a bloody protest action.

Mang Carding, a 48-year old miner who worked in Diwalwal since the 1980s, said they have no qualms in doing what their leaders would ask them to do just to ensure that their livelihood will not be taken away from them. (Ben O. Tesiorna)