Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Sparkling price of gold feeds fever on Philippines’ ‘golden mountain’

Thousands of small mining operations on the mountain are cashing in on rising gold prices, despite the dangers posed by unregulated mining in the area

By Jason Gutierrez  /  AFP, MOUNT DIWATA, PHILIPPINES

He said hundreds of people had also perished in cave-ins and other mine-related accidents.

The hardships of working the mines have earned Diwata the tag “diwalwal,” local slang referring to tongues that hang out after a hard day’s labor in the tunnels.

“When you enter the mines your life is already at stake, you might be buried there or you might get hit by falling rock,” said Dandy Labrador, 28, who left his work as a security guard to become a miner. “It is dangerous and anything can happen.”

Labrador said he arrived at Mount Diwata several years ago filled with dreams of striking it rich, but found that fortune--hunting was backbreaking work.

Like the vast bulk of the miners, Labrador works as a hired hand and is paid with a share of the ore that he digs up. He then sells his ore to brokers.

Still, Labrador said he earned more than he would as a construction worker or laborer in Manila.

“I have not given up on my dream of becoming rich,” he said.

Boyles said there had long been a plan to bring in big mining firms with modern extraction methods and make the operations there legal, but small miners had resisted the idea and continued to virtually control Mount Diwata.

With the high global gold prices, the government is concerned that there will be more Mount Diwata-style operations around the country.

Phillipine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje recently said 70 percent of gold produced in the country already came from illegal mines.

“There is the possibility of a gold rush, because gold is the safest commodity right now,” he said. “But we have to manage our resources well ... this is not the kind of mining we want to encourage.”

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