After two days of being separated, Team Mindanao was excited to reunite and share our learnings. Team 2 (Chris, Suhan and Lerato) was able to learn several valuable insights into the mining industry and even a bit about the Filipino culture.
Yesterday we spent the morning meeting with the Bishop of Marbel. He shared with us his concerns on mining and the implications that he sees the industry having. In his eyes, mining is a divisive industry which has great adverse effects both socially and environmentally.
In the afternoon we had the privilege to sit down with the governor of the province of South Cotabato. Up to this point, everyone we had talked to was either strongly opposed of in favor of mining. The governor however was opposed to mining only when its benefits didn’t outweigh the overall costs. For example, his province passed an ordinance to ban open pit mining. This halted the progress of the largest proposed mine in the Philippines, the Sagatarius Tampakan mine project. However, the governor was taking action to regulate small scale mining in his province by shutting down illegal miners and requiring processing plants to register with the province. He took a liking to our group and treated us to a meal of delicious crab that evening. SuHan was in heaven.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the barangay (town) of T’Boli. In this region there is a tremendous amount of small scale mining and a large scale mine, right next to each other (their tunnels even connect inside the mountain). Basically the mine is a tunnel that goes into the mountain 2km. A few miners manually knock off dirt and rock and other people pack it into 15kg sacks. Then crews carry it out of the tunnel for processing to collect the gold particles. We are still understanding the economics but we think each transporter makes about $2 a day and the actual miner takes a cut of the oar found which can be much more lucrative.
In the afternoon we visited a processing plant. In the plant they take the rock and dirt and put it into drums that they then spin (not fast) for 3 hours to break the pieces up into a sludge. They add mercury to the sludge to create a reaction with the gold and therefore collect all the little bits of gold. From there the mercury gold mix is cooked to burn off the mercury to get the gold. In all, 45kg (90lb +) ends up producing 3g of gold worth about $100. This process only collects about 70% of the gold. The processor will perform another process using cyanide to extract more ore, including silver.
The environmental impact of the operation was significant: Workers were freely handling the toxic mercury. Mercury and cyanide contaminated water was able to flow back into the water supply. It was only when I left that I realized we were in a neighborhood of about 20 different processors all performing the same operation and was taken aback by the size of the impact. How many people relied on this water for agriculture and drinking water? How many workers would soon feel the effects of working with dangerous chemicals for their livelihood?
Once again our team began to draw understandings into the difficulties of the problem and the large environmental effect of the divisive mining industry.