Small-Scale Mining in the Philippines: a Case Study

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SMALL-SCALE MINING
(Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines)

INTRODUCTION

Gold is the number one mineral produced by the Philippines in value terms. Although total local production was low relative to world production, it ranked 2nd to Africa in gold production per unit land area in 1988 and ranked 29th as top gold producer in 2002(Israel and Asirot 2002). In the year 2002–2007, the Philippines’ gold production increased by 8.2%. This contributed an average of 2% gross domestic product (GDP) in the same period. The country was ranked 18th in the GFMs Gold Survey list of top 20 Gold Producing countries in 2007 (Teves 2008). The 2008 and 2009 data of the Philippine mining Almanac showed a significant amount of gold production by the small-scale gold mining operations in the country. Reports revealed that the small-scale mining sector contributed almost 80% of the total gold production. This is equivalent to a Php32B contribution to GDP in 2007 (ibid).

The following 2008 and 2009 data are based on the amount of gold sold to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). The highest amount of gold produced in the country at 28,198 kg and 26,112 kg, respectively were generated by the small-scale mines (fig. 1).

Local governments hosting the sector acknowledged the industry’s economic contribution, as it somehow provides livelihood to the local community and unemployed migrants. There are some reports on the adverse impact of small-scale mining on the environment, health and human lives. However, research studies documenting the impact of small-scale mining industry on the local economy, environment, human health, public safety and the socio-cultural condition of indigenous peoples (IPs) in the mining areas, are limited. The socio-political dynamics between small- scale miners and other stakeholders like community and civil society organizations, regulatory bodies, the government and large-scale mining companies remains undocumented. There were concerns regarding the implication of some regulatory policies on the small-scale mining industry as the application of such will prevent some IP communities from accessing their properties. Furthermore, questions arise on the actual impact of the industry on poverty alleviation. Some theory suggests that the small-scale industry may have aggravated poverty because of the weak regulation of the industry.

While economically significant, small-scale gold mining has been the target of strong opposition in recent years mainly because of its various adverse environmental and social side effects. Foremost of these is mercury pollution.

BACKGROUND

Small-scale mining (SSM) refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization, often in the informal (illegal) sector of the market. Small-scale mining relies heavily on manual labor and does not use explosives. The scope of the area allowed for small-scale mining should not exceed 20 hectares per contractor (1991). In the Philippines, small-scale mining operators include subsistence mining (estimated 75%), individual or family businesses (estimated 15%) and established commercial mining firms (estimated 10%) (Hentschel 2002). According to the different interviews and focus group discussions, the operation of small-scale gold mining in the country can be traced as early as 10th century or even since time immemorial in the north and as late as 1990s in south Cotabato.

Furthermore, numerous foreign studies already investigated the problem of mercury pollution due to small-scale gold mining, concentrating on the experience in Brazil. High levels of mercury concentrations were found in the hair and blood samples ofthe miners and other affected people as well as in fish, soil sediments and forest and river ecosystems in small-scale gold mining areas of the Amazon region.

In the Philippines, several studies also looked into mercury pollution based on the experience in Diwalwal, the...
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