MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippines: B'laan leaders lobby against FPIC process at Tampakan

Published by MAC on 2014-01-23
Source: Statement, PIA, Inquirer, Philippine Star, ABC

Local B'laan leaders, including the son of murdered Bong Fulong [chief] Anteng Freay, have lobbied the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) not to allow a free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) process for the Tampakan project. They believe such a process cannot be free, given the ongoing violence and militarisation of the area. At the same time it appears that national pressure to reverse the open pit mining ban in South Cotabato may be having some effect on the Provincial Government. The Vice-Governor is proposing a review of the policy.

Widespread floods have affected Mindanao, thanks to a severe tropical depression. Medusa Mining is one of the companies who has suspended operations due to floods, or the risk of them.

Elsewhere, the Municipal Government of Boac in Marinduque are joining the call for the Provincial Government to resist the poor offer that Barrick Gold is making to settle the Marcopper disaster. (See: Philippines - The People of Marinduque resist Barrick's unfair settlement).

The Supreme Court has issued a writ of kalikasan (environment) against the Zambales mining operations of DMCI Holdings, claiming that the firm illegally logged trees and levelled the terrain around Bolitoc village.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau claims it is ready to stop black sand mining in Cagayan, as long as the President gives the order. While they wait, armed men have taken their own action and torched a Chinese company's mining barge.

Intex Resources continues to suffer various financial and legal problems with its putative (and pugilistic) partners. This time Chinese ex-backers MCC8 are looking for legal recompense, targeting PNB Paribas for their advisory role.

Finally, the role of children in informal mining is once again examined in an in-depth article, this time focussing specifically on the underwater "compressor miners".

Blaan leaders to NCIP: "No to Tampakan Mining - We want non-FPIC coverage!"

SAC Marbel press release

23 January 2014

Quezon City-Leaders of the Blaan tribe of Bong Mal, Bong Banwe', lobbied the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for a resolution on non-FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) coverage on the Tampakan mining project on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

Fulong Eking Freay, Erita Capion Galang and Sheryl Masday, with the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel (SAC Marbel), were welcomed during the NCIP en banc meeting where they submitted a petition signed by community members.

Their petition, originally written in Bisaya, opposes the operations of Sagittarius Mines Inc, Xstrata-Glencore and Indophil's Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in South Cotabato, Mindanao. It calls on the NCIP to issue a resolution identifying their land, under the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT 102), to be excluded from the Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as they have decided to not allow mining in their territory and Ancestral Domain.

Fulong Eking Freay, son of Bong Fulong Anteng Freay and brother of Victor who was killed by military personnel in August 2013, said: "Ayaw ng komunidad na mag-conduct pa ng FPIC ang NCIP para sa minahan dahil magiging sanhi pa ito ng mga susunod pang kaguluhan." (Our community does not want the NCIP to conduct FPIC for mining in our land because this will only cause more problems and troubles.) Eking added, "Marami ng ng nasawi at paglabag at laban sa amin, ano pa kaya kung papayagan naming silang pumasok sa aming lugar." (There are a lot of casualties and violations done against our people. How much more if we allow them to enter our territory?)

Bong Mal Bong Banwe' is only one of the three other ancestral territories that will be affected by the Tampakan mining project that straddles in the provinces of South Cotabato, Saranggani, Sultan Kudarat, and Davao del Sur. In order to proceed, the company would have to get the consent of IP groups in CADTs 108 and 72, and Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim 72. Said project will dislocate an estimated 3,000-4,000 IPs.

The petition reiterates that rights of IPs have been abused and violates since the entry of mining in their area. Disrespect of their elders, as well as their culture and their sacred grounds, along with the killing of anti-mining leaders, are only some of the negative effects that mining has brought them.

The request for Non-FPIC coverage aims to automatically exclude the Blaans from being consulted by the mining company as they are clear in their position to say no to mining in their ancestral domain-the roots of their culture.

"The people have expressed their stand; the government must adhere. That is their home. This should be the legacy if the PNoy government to the Blaan people," SAC Marbel director Fr Joy Peliño added.

In their two-day visit, the IP leaders and their support groups will also meet with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno; House Committee on National Cultural Communities Chairwoman, Nancy Catamco; and the Commission on Human Rights, to voice out their opposition to the mining project. This meeting will also act as a follow up on their call for investigation and pertinent action on the reported cases of mining-related human rights violations in their areas.

In order to proceed to the operation stage, the Tampakan project-holders needs to overturn the South Cotabato Environment Code provision banning open-pit mining as well as get the consent of the IP communities that will need to be resettled.


The Tampakan Forum is a technical working group on the Tampakan mining issue convened by the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc (PMPI) in collaboration with the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, Alyansa Tigil Mina, Philippine Association for Intercultural Development (PAFID), Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC-KSK/FOEI), Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLINKS), Purple Action for Indigenous Women's Rights (LILAK), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), and the London Working Group on Mining in the Philippines.

For more information:

Fr. Joy Peliño, SAC Marbel Director, (0939) 8456373
Rene Pamplona, SAC Marbel Advocacy Officer, (0908) 1264530

Official confirms revival of open-pit mining issue in S. Cotabato

PIA Government

21 January 2014

KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Jan 21 (PIA) - An official of the provincial government of South Cotabato yesterday confirmed the issue on open-pit mining has recently become a hot item again.

Vice-Governor Atty. Cecil Diel, during the flag-raising ceremony told employees of the provincial LGU that several church-based groups and cause-oriented organization have marched to her office upon learning that she has referred the letter and position paper of Mines and Geosciences Bureau 12 Regional Director Constancio Paye Jr. to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

In that position paper, submitted on December 12, 2013, Director Paye requested the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to review of the Provincial Ordinance No.04, Series of 2010, otherwise known as the Provincial Environment Code of South Cotabato.

He specifically asked the SP to consider the provision of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942) allowing open-pit mining as a mining method in the extraction of minerals.

"Furthermore, Executive Order No.79 issued on July 6, 2012 (Institutionalizing and Implementing Reforms in the Philippine Mining Sector providing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Environmental Protection and Responsible Mining in the Utilization of Mineral Resources) in Section 12, stated that there should be the consistency of local ordinances with the Constitution and National Laws/LGU Cooperation."

"The LGUs shall only confine themselves to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations," he noted in the said document, which also cited several other reasons.

"I hope that whatever decision the SP would reach, it will be for the best interest of the people of South Cotabato," Diel said.

However, she emphasized, as long as no court has declared that the provision on the open-pit mining method is invalid the ban remains. (DEDoguiles with Karen May T. Tamagos - PIA 12)

Marinduque town seeks better deal in mining tragedy payment

By Maricar Cinco

Inquirer Southern Luzon

3 January 2014

The municipal government of Boac in Marinduque province has joined calls by antimining groups to renegotiate the compensation package being dangled by a mining company in connection with the 1996 Marcopper mine tailing spill, considered the worst mining disaster in the Philippines.

In a resolution, Boac officials urged the Marinduque provincial government to renegotiate the terms of the $20-million settlement offer.

It said "any amount to be negotiated... should be commensurate" to the destruction that the mining disaster brought to the people of Boac and Marinduque.

The Boac resolution was approved on Dec. 18, 2013, the same day that at least 500 residents rallied at the Marinduque capitol as the provincial government officials deliberated on the offer of Barrick Gold Corp.

Barrick Gold is the company that bought out Marcopper Mining Corp. and its parent company, Placer Dome, after the tailing spill that destroyed Marinduque's rivers in the towns of Boac, Mogpog and Sta. Cruz.

"It is good there is now [an] LGU (local government unit) which stands up [for the] renegotiation of the settlement conditions," said Elizabeth Manggol, executive director of the church-based Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (Macec) that organized the rally.

Macec is lobbying with local government leaders to reject the compensation offer, which, it said, was not enough to pay for the province's losses and rehabilitate ecosystems that have been destroyed by the mining disaster.

Manggol said accepting the offer would also allow the company to walk away from the mine disaster "with impunity" and jeopardize other pending cases, among them 12 counts of criminal charges and a billion-peso tax case against Marcopper and Barrick Gold.

The company has given Marinduque province only until the end of this month to decide on its offer.

Dr. Catherine Coumans, of the Canadian environmental group MiningWatch, warned against Barrick's offer, which she called "an unacceptable long-term financial and social burden."

In an e-mail interview on Monday, Coumans raised concerns over some conditions set by the company, particularly on one which prevents Marinduque from using any part of the $20 million to rehabilitate areas damaged by mining operations.

"The best outcome would be a much improved offer from Barrick or a rejection of the offer and a continuation of the trial," Coumans wrote.

She said the province "has a strong case" should it walk out of the negotiating table and pursue trial.

SC issues writ of kalikasan vs DMCI mining

By Camille Diola

Philippine Star

14 January 2014

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a writ of kalikasan against the Zambales mining operations of DMCI Holdings Inc. and DMCI Mining Corp.

The decision stemmed from a plea by Agham Party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones against the firms, both owned by construction magnate David Consunji, against mining metallic ore and destroying the land formation in Sta. Cruz town.

Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the high court also referred the case to the Court of Appeals to accept the respondents' Return of the Writ.

The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy based on the constitutional provision Article II, Section 16, which states the people's right to "a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature."

The high tribunal included as co-respondents in the case the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Environmental Management Bureau and the Philippine Ports Authority.

In his petition filed last December, Palmones said the DMCI illegally logged trees and levelled the terrain in Barangay Bolitoc. He asked the Supreme Court to order the firm to restore the land.

The DMCI's operations, he said, pose environmental risks to residents who may experience strong storm surges due to the destruction of the mountain that serves as natural barrier from the sea.

"[The high court should] direct the DENR, [Environmental Management Bureau ] and the PPA ... to protect and preserve the remaining mountain trees and the mountain in Bolitoc, Sta. Cruz, Zambales," Palmones said in the petition.

The DMCI Mining Corporation is wholly-owned subsidiary of DMCI Holdings Inc. engaged in ore and mineral mining and exploration whose operations in Sta. Cruz and Candelaria in Zambales are ventured with Australia-based Rusina Mining, Ltd.

Medusa Mining suspends Davao operations due to floods

21 January 2014

MANILA, Philippines - Gold miner Medusa Mining has ceased all mining activities in Davao as a precautionary measure after heavy rains caused flooding and landslides in the area.

The firm said several sections of the highway that lead to its mine site are inaccessible as a result of the flooding.

Non-stop rains have also caused slippages and landslides in several areas around the mining area.

No injuries have been reported.

MGB ready to stop black sand mining in Cagayan

By Charlie Lagasca

The Philippine Star

19 January 2014

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines - The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) is ready to stop all black sand mining operations in Cagayan if Malacañang upholds the resolution of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) for their stoppage.

Engineer Mario Ancheta, MGB director for Cagayan Valley, said they would abide by any decision of President Aquino on the fate of the black sand mining industry in the country's northernmost mainland province.

"We will stop all (black sand mining) operations in Cagayan if the President says so," he said.
Ancheta, however, said the existing mining firms extracting black sand in Cagayan are legal with their operations being continuously monitored.

Black sand or magnetite is used as an additive in the manufacturing of concrete and steel products, magnets, paint, ink, paper, jewelry and cosmetics, making it a lucrative commodity in foreign markets such as in China and Taiwan.

Mining firms extracting black sand in Cagayan are reportedly owned or being run or financed mostly by Chinese and Taiwanese nationals, whose permits to operate were either given by the MGB or concerned local government units.

Black sand extraction is also reportedly being undertaken in the Ilocos region, Zambales and parts of the Visayas.

The MICC recently passed a resolution calling on the President to stop all black sand mining operations in the country, citing their adverse effects on coastal communities and the ecosystem.

The MICC, co-chaired by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, is under the Office of the President.

A ranking Palace official said the President is seriously considering the MICC recommendation and would come out with a decision within the month.

The MICC resolution came after the Cagayan black sand mining task force led by Secretary Manuel Mamba of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office sought the suspension of black sand extraction in the province pending a review of the permits of mining firms.

"It was the MICC which recommended its suspension throughout the country. This came after our task force sought its suspension in Cagayan," Mamba said.

Mamba cited the dangers the extraction of black sand would bring to coastal folk and the environment, especially in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas.

Stopping or suspending black sand extraction, according to Mamba, would allow the government to review the permits of the mining firms engaged in it.

"Their current permits are not enough to conduct mining, especially since these mining firms are exporting the minerals," he said.

Armed men torch black sand mining equipment in Cagayan

By Melvin Gascon

Inquirer Northern Luzon

13 January 2014

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya - Suspected communist rebels burned a barge and other heavy equipment used by a Chinese company in its black sand extraction and dredging activities in Lal-lo town in Cagayan province on Monday morning, police said.

Chief Inspector Jacinto Tuddao, Lal-lo police chief, said the armed men set on fire a cargo vessel and other equipment including a backhoe, a pay loader and a dump truck at the black sand mining processing site of San You Philippines Mining Trade Ltd. Inc. in Catayauan village at 3 a.m.

Tuddao said policemen have started pursuing the perpetrators, who they suspect are members of the New People's Army.

MCC8 Claims for Damages of US$ 10 Milllion against Societe Generale

10 January 2014

Shenzhen - Hong Kong MCC8 Group Company Limited ("MCC8") has authorized K.B. CHOU & CO., a well-known law firm in Hong Kong, to issue an Attorney Letter to Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking ("SocGen") for its inducing breach of contract and economic tort. MCC8 claims for damages in exceed of US$ 10 million against SocGen.

MCC8 signed an Engagement Agreement with Intex Resources ASA ("Intex") dated 5th June 2013 (the "Agreement"). Under the Agreement, MCC8 was engaged by Intex to assist Intex in identifying, selecting potential investors, lenders and joint venture partners for the Mindoro Nickel Project (the"Project") and making initial contact with these potential investors and partners with a view to listing in Hong Kong. In return, MCC8 would receive remuneration from Intex and in fact a fee has on 7th June 2013 been paid.

By a Press Release dated 5th June 2013 entitled of "Intex Resources ASA and MCC8 work forward towards Listing of Mindoro Nickel Project in Hong Kong", the public was put on notice of MCC8's engagement as a financial adviser. However, notwithstanding the said public notice, SocGen purportedly signed an exclusive financial advisory agreement with Intex for the Project on August 19th, in 2013.

SocGen induced Intex to intentionally postpone and cancel a series of important meetings and negotiations with the investors arranged by MCC8 and its partners. SocGen made Intex deliberately dropped the signing meeting for the agreement on establishing an operation company for the Project between MCC8, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MCC and Intex on November 20th, 2013 without any reason. SocGen seriously interfered the acquisition for the Project proposed by a Hong Kong public traded company and finally led Intex to unilaterally announce the cancellation of the Agreement in its press release on December 4th, 2013.

It is clear that SocGen has intentionally and without lawful justification procured and induced Intex to breach its contract with MCC8 hereby committing an economic tort with full intent and knowledge.

He Yu, President & CEO at MCC8 International, comments, "the economic tort is committed when a wrongdoer intentionally and without lawful justification persuaded or induced a third party to breach his contract with the complainant. In the present case, SocGen's intention is clear when it is public knowledge that there is an existing advisory contract and its "exclusive contract" is a clear intention to pervert because its contract with Intex is an "inconsistent transaction" and is evidence of direct inducement since SocGen has chosen to enter into a conflicting transaction."

In the circumstances, we are issuing proceedings against SocGen in the Hong Kong Court for damages, including loss of profit, non-pecuniary loss, injured reputation and punitive damages which will exceed US$10 million.

Société Générale S.A. (SocGen) is a French multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in Paris. The company is a universal bank split into three main divisions, Retail Banking and Specialized Financial Services (particularly in France and Eastern Europe), Corporate and Investment Banking (Derivatives, Structured Finance and Euro Capital Markets) and Global Investment Management and Services.

Based on 2012 data Société Générale is France's third largest bank by total assets and the No. 8 bank in Europe. Société Générale is one of the oldest banks in France. Founded in 1864 its original name was Société Générale pour favoriser le développement du commerce et de l'industrie en France (English: General Company to Support the Development of Commerce and Industry in France). Société Générale is often nicknamed SocGen (pronounced "sock jenn") in the international financial world.

Children mine for gold at great risk to their health

Richard C. Paddock and Larry C. Price

The Philadelphia Inquirer

27 December 2013

First of two parts.

SANTA BARBARA, Philippines - Romnick Bocejo picked up his blowtorch and blasted a small lump of mercury and gold. A cloud of toxic fumes rose around his head as the heat vaporized the mercury. He covered his mouth and nose with his T-shirt, and kept working.

At 16, Bocejo has worked half his life in the meager family business: looking for gold in the remote mining region of Camarines Norte, about 200 miles southeast of Manila.

One of his jobs is to burn the mercury, and on this occasion, he produced a button-size lump of nearly pure gold. He is uncertain whether to believe the smoke is dangerous.

"I have been doing this since I was 8," he said. "I do it every day now. I don't know if the mercury contains poison. No one has ever told me that."

Bocejo is among the 115 million children ages 5 to 17 who work in hazardous occupations worldwide, the United Nations International Labor Organization estimates. About a million children work in mining, and many are exposed to mercury while their growing brains are most vulnerable.

Mercury's perils are well known. The liquid metal can cause tremors, memory loss, brain damage, and other ailments. It accumulates in the body over time, and its effects are irreversible. It can be absorbed through the skin, ingested in food, or inhaled as a vapor.

Small-scale gold mining is the largest source of mercury emissions caused by humans, accounting for more than 35 percent of the global total, according to the U.N. Environmental Program.

Mercury use is widespread in the Philippines and Indonesia, where child labor is common and small-scale gold miners operate freely.

On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, thousands of miners hack apart mountains in Poboya-Paneki Grand Forest Park and use mercury to process the ore. On Borneo, miners clear-cut the rain forest and dredge the soil in the hunt for gold, poisoning the environment and themselves with mercury and leaving thousands of acres of wasteland.

The two neighboring Southeast Asian nations, made up of about 25,000 islands, restrict the use of child labor. The burning of mercury is prohibited in the Philippines and in parts of Indonesia, but in both countries, pervasive corruption and weak central governments make it difficult to curb these practices, especially in remote areas.

"That's the problem in developing countries," said Halimah Syafrul, assistant deputy for hazardous substance management in Indonesia's Ministry of Environment. "Our government can be bribed. Money can talk."

In the Philippines, the government estimates there are more than 300,000 small-scale gold miners. Officials acknowledge that laws restricting them are seldom enforced. Some operate under permits issued by local officials.

Much of the gold from here ends up in China. Once it enters the world gold market, there is no way to know how much reaches the United States.

For centuries, miners have used mercury to extract gold and create an amalgam of the two metals. Large gold producers have switched to newer techniques. But small-scale miners' casual use of mercury introduces it into waterways, the air and the food supply - particularly fish - imperiling entire communities.

Julie Hall, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines, said mercury is one of the top 10 chemicals of public health concern worldwide.

Because children's brains "are growing every day," she said, "they are very vulnerable to toxins such as mercury."

While less than a metric ton of mercury was imported legally to Indonesia last year, 300 to 400 tons were smuggled in, said Syafrul, the Indonesian official. "The problem is that the government cannot stop the import of mercury," she said in an interview at her Jakarta office. "The mercury keeps coming into Indonesia and is still widely used in gold mining."

Yuyun Ismawati, cofounder of BaliFokus, an environmental group pushing to reduce mercury use, contends high-level payoffs play a part.

"Gold is the daily allowance of the generals," said Ismawati, who received the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work. She is the lead representative on small-scale gold mining for IPEN, a global coalition of 700 nonprofit groups working to eliminate pollutants.

This fall, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States were among more than 90 nations signing the Minamata Convention, a global pact to phase out mercury mining and reduce emissions. The treaty encourages countries to reduce mercury use in gold mining but does not ban it.

In 2008, a gold rush in central Sulawesi lured thousands of miners to the Poboya-Paneki park. For five years, they have tunneled into a mountain there, breaking it apart rock by rock with hammers and crowbars. Today, the sound of hammering fills the air as miners carry 90-pound sacks of ore down rocky paths.

The miners know of the ban on mining in the park but say police don't enforce it. The tunnels are not always well shored up, and collapses are common.

Some miners soften seams of quartz with a prandel, a five-foot metal rod that shoots out fire. The flame creates a hellish glow in the tunnel.

"It's hot and dangerous," said Errol Arnold, 34, a prandel operator who narrowly escaped a tunnel collapse in October that killed two friends.

Moments after he spoke, part of his tunnel collapsed with a crash. More than 100 miners came rushing out of the warren of tunnels. They waited a half- hour before deciding it was safe to go back.

Ridaeni, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, was living near the mountain when the gold rush began. She claimed four mine shafts and pays miners a share to work them.

She estimates that more than 1,000 miners work on the mountain, 50 to 100 of them children. Many more work at mines elsewhere in the park.

"Most of the kids are dropouts from school," she said as she sat under a tarp near the opening of one of her mines. "Some start at age 5 pounding the rock with hammers, filling the bags and fetching water. It's sad, but the parents come here for work. They travel as a family and work as a family."

Nearby, Yoyo, 10, and his friend, Duku, 8, hammered on rocks, working barefoot in a 20-foot-deep hole with Yoyo's mother, grandmother, and a few other relatives. Duku's parents worked nearby. The boys loaded the broken rocks into bags and carried them to the surface.

Yoyo's mother, Hayati, 29, said of her son, "He loves to work here."

Yoyo, wearing filthy yellow shorts and shirt, can't read and has never been to school. Hayati said she earns less than $5 a day and cannot afford books or shoes for him. But she said she is not concerned about his future.

"It's better to be with his family," she said.

Did Yoyo want to be a miner? The boy shyly hung his head. "I will let my mother decide," he said. "If I can, I would like to be a miner."

From the mountain, the ore is trucked three miles to Poboya, a gold-rush town of wooden shacks, to be processed in hundreds of ball mills, open-sided structures with rotating drums that grind the rock to dust. Workers put pea-size gobs of mercury in the drums with the ore so the gold will stick together.

Later, miners use more mercury as they pan the crushed ore. To form the lump of metal, they often squeeze out excess mercury with a filter made from umbrella fabric.

The final stage is burning off the mercury. On Poboya's main street, gold merchants have converted oil drums into makeshift fireplaces where they and the miners torch bits of metal.

When BaliFokus tested the air there in 2011, it found mercury levels twice the Indonesian safety standard and five times the U.S. danger limit, Ismawati said.

At the main intersection of Poboya, miners come to Upriani's small shop to buy mercury. She is the only dealer in town.

Upriani, 38, said she sells at least 35 kilograms a day for the equivalent of $133 per kilo. She spends some of it buying gold from miners. When business is brisk, she shoves rupiah notes into an overflowing drawer.

After she first opened her shop four years ago, police seized her mercury, she said. But instead of prosecuting her, they introduced her to her current supplier, a well-connected businessman. She said she operates legally because her supplier has a permit. Authorities in Jakarta disagree, but she remains in business.

A mother of three, Upriani acknowledges the health risks. "I know it is dangerous, but distributing mercury supports the economy out here," she said. "The miners need the mercury, and I need the gold."

Environmental groups such as BaliFokus in Indonesia and Ban Toxics in the Philippines want miners to switch to borax, a safe compound that can extract more gold but requires more skill. But in most gold mining areas, mercury remains part of the routine.

In Cisitu on the Indonesian island of Java, where small-scale miners have used mercury for two decades, air sampling in August by BaliFokus found levels far above the safety threshold.

In Diwalwal on the Philippine island of Mindanao, miners have built mills beneath their homes and often burn mercury there. The fumes waft up into the houses.

Most of the 750 families of Santa Barbara make a living from mining. The hillside village was spared by Typhoon Haiyan, which passed more than 260 miles to the south in November, killing more than 6,000 people. The miners halted work - for a day.

A creek runs through the village, and the houses facing it have ball mills instead of patios.

Many boys leave school to work in the mines. The miners cart ore home to the ball mills, load it into the drums and add a bit of mercury, much of which ends up in the creek.

At the Bocejo house, Romnick Bocejo burned the amalgam in an open shed with a thatched roof. The lump of metal sat on a workbench in a clay dish. The teenager held the torch inches away. Within moments the metal glowed red-hot.

Younger children came close to watch as fumes filled the air. "Most of the time when I am burning gold, I smell an odor," Bocejo said. "I cover my mouth with my shirt. As of now, I don't feel any problems."

In Philippines, workers toil among hazards in compressor mining

Richard C. Paddock

The Philadelphia Inquirer

29 December 2013

SANTA MILAGROSA, Philippines - Brian Mullaton is 13 years old and makes his living by diving into deep, muddy holes.

He works on a floating wooden platform in shallow Mambulao Bay in what is one of the world's most dangerous professions: compressor mining.

On a typical day, he makes the equivalent of $5.

"Sometimes, I am scared to go down because of the possibility it will collapse," said Brian, the fourth of nine children in his family. "But I like the job because I get money. I give the money to my parents for food."

Compressor mining originated as far back as the mid-1990s here in Camarines Norte, an impoverished coastal province about 200 miles southeast of Manila.

Divers dig down as much as 60 feet while breathing through a tube connected to a makeshift compressor, which often is made from a San Miguel beer keg. They dig in rice paddies, rivers and bays and stay underground for hours at a time. Their job is to fill bucket after bucket with soil for a fellow miner to haul to the surface. Some wear a snorkel mask, but many don't; they just keep their eyes shut.

The job is hazardous, the returns are paltry and they say their work is illegal. But that doesn't stop the miners - mostly adults and some children - from diving into the mud to find gold.

"We have no choice," said Rafael Ramorez, 16, who dropped out of high school during his freshman year to start working as a miner. "There is no other opportunity. There is no other job."

Rafael spoke as his cousin, Jonathon Ramorez, 12, stood waist deep in the murky bay with a wide wooden pan he uses to separate gold from sediment. In his teeth, he held a plastic bag containing a small lump of mercury and gold, the product of the crew's work for the day.

Jonathon, Rafael and Brian are among the 1 million children worldwide who work in the hazardous occupation of mining, according to an estimate by the International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

Compressor mining was banned in the Philippines under a 2012 executive order. The crews also operate outside the law by employing children and using highly toxic mercury. At Mambulao Bay, miners say they stay in business by paying police agencies the equivalent of $11 a month for each worker. Local officials say the miners are issued permits.

Chief Inspector Juancho Ibis, the town police commander, said no miners have brought charges of bribery against the police.

More than 400 miners work from 40 rafts of wood and bamboo anchored on the bay near the village of Santa Milagrosa. Typhoon Haiyan, which ripped across the Philippines in November and left thousands dead, had little effect on the miners here. The center of the storm passed more than 260 miles to the south, interrupting operations for only a day.

Most of the rafts have a blue plastic tarp stretched overhead to provide shade from the harsh tropical sun, giving the place the look of a floating encampment. The workers get around in wooden canoes, which double as tubs for breaking up the sediment.

Boys and girls as young as 10 work alongside adults in crews of about a dozen people. The children usually do the less strenuous jobs, including panning for gold while standing for hours in the filthy water.

The $5 the miners make on a typical day is more than they could earn at other unskilled jobs in the impoverished region - if they could find a job.

Compressor mining was inspired by Filipino fishermen who use compressors to breathe underwater while catching reef fish. The beer-keg compressor is connected to a small motor designed for pumping water from wells. The miners loop the air hose around their shoulders and hold the end in their teeth.

At the surface, the tunnel opening is small - barely 3 feet square. As soon as the divers descend into the hole, it is impossible to see. Operating by feel, they shovel dirt into a rice bag that serves as a bucket.

Once the miners reach a layer of dirt where there might be gold, they dig sideways, heightening the danger of collapse. A fellow miner at the surface occasionally scoops water into the hole to equalize the pressure as the soil is removed.

Compressor mining poses a range of health risks, especially to children who dive.

When a diver is underwater, nitrogen bubbles can form in the bloodstream and travel to the brain and lungs, causing many small patches of damage. The problem can be exacerbated when the compressor motor unexpectedly stops and the diver rushes to the surface for air.

Diesel fumes, carbon monoxide and other pollutants can enter the hose and contaminate the air the divers breathe, sometimes with deadly effect. Miners on the bay say the man who thought up compressor mining died from inhaling oil through his hose.

In addition, the divers can suffer skin infections or maladies such as leptospirosis from being immersed in the dirty water, which often is tainted with animal waste and teeming with bacteria, said Julie Hall, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines.

"For somebody to be spending a lot of time breathing poor-quality air, under pressure, under the water, and exposed to all of these bacteria and other bugs in that dirty water, this clearly poses a significant health risk," Hall said during an interview at her Manila office. "And particularly for young people, if they are doing this repeatedly, it is likely to affect their development."

Compounding the risk to miners, the mercury they use to extract gold dust from the sediment is highly toxic and is known to cause tremors, memory loss and brain damage, among other symptoms.

"You can't reverse mercury poisoning," said Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics, an environmental group seeking to end mercury use in the Philippines. "Brain cells are destroyed and can't be replaced. You can't reverse the nerve damage."

Of all the hazards, divers say their greatest fear is that the tunnel will cave in while they are deep inside. Miners say they know of two men who were crushed that way under the bay.

The biggest disaster occurred in November last year in Paracale, a coastal town about 10 miles east of Mambulao Bay where miners had dug about 100 mineshafts on the beach and offshore. Some of the tunnels collapsed, and seawater rushed in. Three bodies were recovered, but some accounts suggest that the toll was significantly higher.

An investigation by the federal Mines and Geosciences Bureau concluded that a miner working illegally had used explosives and caused the tunnel collapse. The deaths drew national attention, and authorities banned all mining at Paracale. But compressor mining continues elsewhere.

About five miles inland from central Paracale, in the small farming village of Tawig, an extended family group of 16 miners has set up operations in the waterlogged soil between a rice paddy and the Bacung River. The crew includes cousins Edlyn Ortiz, 12, and Elias Delima, 15.

The group has been mining for several days in a grove of nipa, a small, sturdy palm common along riverbanks. The ground is pockmarked with holes brimming with brown water. They look like mud puddles but are as much as 40 feet deep.

Two divers send up buckets of dirt. Family members shovel the dirt into a tub, break it up with their feet, run it through a sluice box and pan the sediment that's left to extract gold dust.

Five-year-old Ernie Delima plays in the mud and helps by hauling water and moving dirt.

Older brother Elias, who dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work in the family business, said he occasionally takes the hose in his teeth and dives underground.

"I just want to go in and help," he said.

Still, he said, diving into the muddy tunnel is unnerving.

"I feel scared," he said. "I am afraid because maybe the tunnel will collapse. It is very hard to breathe."

The diver gets a double share of the earnings, and Elias said he once earned the equivalent of about $23 in a day. But he concedes that he would be happier doing something else.

"I'd like to find another job," he said.

Dindo Leche, 20, who married into the family of miners, said he began diving at 14.

"I had no choice," he said. "We needed to support the family."

He was afraid when he first started diving, but not anymore. His longest stay underground is six hours.

"I don't feel anything inside the hole, just cold," he said, then added: "I feel a little afraid that it will collapse. A lot of the time, the soil collapses."

At the end of the day, Leche takes the gold-laden sediment they have all collected, mixes it with mercury and swirls it around in a wide wooden pan. Squeezing out the excess mercury through a piece of nylon, he ends up with a lump of metal smaller than a wad of used chewing gum. Later, he will burn it with a blowtorch to vaporize the mercury.

It is one last hazard the family faces in a long day of mining.

Journalists Larry C. Price and Sol Vanzi, in Manila, contributed to this report. Price is documenting child labor in developing countries as part of a long-term project funded by grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington. This story was produced in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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