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EDITORIAL - City of the Cursed Gold

(The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2016 - 9:00am

With depressing regularity, the mountains of Monkayo town in Compostela Valley bury individuals who eke out a living by manually digging for gold ore. Last Saturday night, a section of a mining tunnel in Barangay Ulip collapsed, trapping 12 people. Six of the miners were rescued, but three were found dead, with another body recovered yesterday. Among the fatalities was a rescuer.

The search for the three who remained missing last night was hampered by the mud and water from 10 days of incessant rains that had inundated the tunnel. Heavy rains have also caused many of the disasters in the mining area, with at least 36 killed in 2012 alone. The deaths have earned the area, particularly Mt. Diwalwal, the moniker “City of the Cursed Gold.”

Despite the regular accidents, little has been done to regulate small-scale mining. Major mining companies have decried the failure to regulate small-scale miners, whose unsafe and irresponsible practices have tarnished industry efforts to clean up its act.

The country has suffered the consequences of irresponsible mining. Marinduque is still feeling the impact of the 1996 Marcopper disaster, which destroyed its main river and caused illnesses in the affected communities. Environmental groups believe responsible mining is an oxymoron.

Several mining companies have moved to clean up their operations while arguing, amid calls for a total mining ban in many areas, that the world can’t do without extractive activities. Efforts by the major players to improve safety and environment records are set back each time a disaster occurs in small-scale mining sites.

Against opposition from environmental groups, the government has moved to encourage mining. If the government wants the industry to thrive, it must not only enforce safety rules at major mining sites, but also start tightening the reins on small-scale mining. The curse on the City of Gold need not be permanent.

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