‘Gold Rush’ in Benguet Mining Town Endangering Lives

Rather than bringing life, the teeming “gold rush” in the mining town of Itogon in Benguet has instead brought danger.


Itogon, Benguet (197 kms north of Manila)– Rather than bringing life, the teeming “gold rush” in the mining town of Itogon in Benguet has instead brought danger.

Disasters have kept coming, the latest of which was last Nov. 7 when three small-scale miners died inside a tunnel in Antamok apparently because they breathed toxic gas instead of oxygen.

Last Sept. 22, 16 small-scale miners were trapped for nine days inside an abandoned large scale commercial mine tunnel also in Antamok. Ten survived but six died without being able to tell of their suffering inside a dark and stinking tunnel.

Government regulations

There are only around four small-scale mining groups in Itogon that are sanctioned by the government. Around 60 more groups are not sanctioned, though registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission but are out there doing business, said Felizardo Gacad, Mine Safety Division Chief of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)–Cordillera.

The “gold rush” is inviting disasters, admitted Gacad who together with investigators probed the Nov. 7 disaster and found out that the trio did not follow safety regulations.

“They entered without switching the blower to ventilate (the tunnel),” said Fernando Guevarra, senior environment management specialist of the MGB who together with Santiago Bugnosen, also of the MGB, probed the latest accident.

“We are recommending that all small-scale miners who are not part of mining groups join registered associations so they would have better access to seminars on mine safety,” added Gacad.

“Because most are not sanctioned by the government, we have no way of monitoring them,” he said.

“Likewise, with the Sept. 22 disaster in BC mine tunnel level 700, we keep on reminding BC to strictly regulate the entry of small scale miners or mining activities,” Gacad further said.

Trading tirades

Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan pinned responsibility for the disaster on the MGB, while the latter claims regulating small-scale mining has since been devolved to the provincial governments through the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board.

Though MGB-Cordillera director Neoman dela Cruz is the chairman of the PMRB, Fongwan is the one signing the permits.

“If MGB has been tough in enforcing laws, this could have been prevented,” Fongwan said.

Fongwan also said the MGB should have been strictly monitoring and regulating the small-scale mining operation in the province after the Nov. 7 tragedy.

Fongwan vowed that the Benguet provincial government would come up with profiles of legal small-scale miners in the province to prevent another tragedy.

Villagers in Itogon, as well as outsiders, said that hundreds of them are tempted to break into abandoned tunnels of the Benguet Corporation and make new tunnels to look for gold. “It is livelihood,” said a government mining engineer, “so people seize…opportunities.”

Hence, said a government engineer, the legislature must now step into the matter and start reviewing the Mining Act of 1995 to suit the challenges of medium-scale mining in the country.

The same government engineer, who asked not to be named, said that political considerations are stepping into the operation of small- and medium-scale miners and because of this, government regulation including environmental limitations are compromised in the name of votes.(Bulatlat.com)

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