For small miners, life’s a gamble

Published by rudy Date posted on April 30, 2011

PANTUKAN, COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines—For Jay Celade, the chance to strike big and earn thousands of pesos in just several hours of working underground means more than the constant risk of death.

Celade was among the 13 people rescued after a landslide buried the small-scale mining area in Sitio Panganason in Barangay Kingking in Compostela Valley’s Pantukan town. At least 13 people were killed.

“I do this for my family, for food, for their education, for our survival. Tell me, for a high school graduate like me, would there be a more high-paying job such as this?” the 26-year-old father of two says.

Celade says he earns P15,000 weekly from his efforts and sends the amount to his wife, Janet. Indeed, it is a fortune for a man like him who does not even have any college degree.

“With this money, I’m planning to buy a parcel of lot so I can farm vegetables. For now, let me do this. I will save,” he says.

The young man lost his brother James in the avalanche of mud and rocks. Together with two others, the brothers had been trapped for hours in a tunnel.

The lure of big money has been a strong motivation for boys and men to brave the deep and perilous mine shafts in Compostela Valley’s gold-rich areas.

Miners’ mantra

According to officials, miners often live in their own ungrammatical mantra, which borders almost on carelessness and disregard to their safety: “Die today, die tomorrow, the same die.” Translated loosely: You can die anytime.

This explains why many miners, who were once victims of landslides, usually return to mining when new gold-rush areas are being “discovered.”

“We have been constantly reminding them of the dangers especially during rains, but unfortunately some were just so stubborn,” Gov. Arturo Uy says.

The provincial government and several mining groups have signed a memorandum of agreement that miners would organize and police their ranks, and follow safety measures, especially when rains are nonstop and may trigger landslides.

The deal was made weeks after a similar deadly landslide in Pantukan’s Barangay Napnapan in May 2008. But as days and months wore off, the miners seem to have forgotten its importance, officials lament.

Surge of people

Former community affairs officer Luz Fernandez says the local government has implemented stringent rules to control the surge of people going to the gold-rich slopes.

“An executive order was put in place to control the movement of people. They were told to register before going up to the mountains, but they responded coldly,” Fernandez says.

“They would just say, ‘Sandali lang kami, hindi kami tatagal dito. Kung magkapera, uuwi na kami (We will not stay long. If we make money, we will leave).’”

With the current gold price of at least P2,000 a gram, miners and would-be miners from as far as the Agusan and Surigao provinces are on alert for news of the next gold-rush area.

Nine of Compostela Valley’s 11 municipalities have such areas—from Monkayo’s Mt. Diwalwal to the north; Compostela’s Bango; New Bataan’s Camanlangan; Maragusan’s Pamintaran; Nabunturan’s Inupoan, Mainit and Siraban; Mawab; Maco’s Masara; Mabini’s Golden Valley and Pantukan’s Diat, Boringot, Gumayan, Biasong, Mangapispis and the site of Good Friday’s tragedy—Panganason.

Fernandez says the lure of quick money push people to stay. Some have even put up huts on the ridges.

The local government has even warned of the risks of mining deep in the tunnels, according to her. “The many incidents of landslides that have killed many can prove our desire to send them home and look for other means.”

Often, they receive responses such as: “Anong gagawin namin sa buhay namin, nandito ang trabaho? (What will we do with our lives? Work is here.)”

“But they are able persons, strong men who can do better than mining, than gamble their lives here,” Fernandez stresses.


She says that most of the miners are not from Pantukan. “The casualties in the recent landslide prove not one from Pantukan are engaged there.”

“In incidents like this, the local government is often blamed. But we have done our share of seeing their welfare first, but they would not listen. Hindi n’yo kami dapat sisihin (You should not blame us).”

Transient miners, according to Fernandez, come from the nearby towns in Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte and the provinces in the Caraga region, and even as far as Luzon and the Visayas.

“In light of the tragedy, we hope to sign a memorandum of understanding with other town mayors to implement measures on the movement of people going to Pantukan’s mining slopes,” she says.

Fernandez notes that roads and trails in Mabini and Mawab towns lead to Pantukan’s mineral-rich mountains. “Money is really easy here, but please value also our lives, not just money,” she appeals in Filipino.–Rosa May de Guzman, Jeoffrey Maitem, Frinston Lim, Inquirer Mindanao

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