Gold min­ing and the de­vel­op­ment of Baguio

Sun.Star Baguio - - OPINION -

THIS will be the first part of a se­ries out­lin­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of the min­ing in­dus­try in the de­vel­op­ment of Baguio City. These ar­ti­cles were taken from the book "Isles of Gold: A His­tory of Min­ing in the Philip­pines" by Sal­vador P. Lopez, as com­mis­sioned by the Cham­ber of Mines of the Philip­pines.

The story of the min­ing in­dus­try's growth is most sen­sa­tion­ally told as the story of how Baguio trans­formed from a vast wilder­ness with patches of hu­man set­tle­ments into a bustling me­trop­o­lis. The dis­trict, hav­ing the largest min­eral con­cen­tra­tion, par­tic­u­larly of gold, had the great­est po­ten­tial to be­come a lead­ing cen­tre of the coun­try's min­eral pro­duc­tion. Although it had a record of hav­ing the largest num­ber of prospec­tors and min­eral claimants since the 1890s, most of them Amer­i­cans, the dis­trict started to live up to its billing only two decades later. By the 1920s, the dis­trict had dis­placed Mas­bate as the coun­try's premier gold pro­ducer.

The ac­cel­er­ated de­vel­op­ment of the Baguio min­ing dis­trict was sparked by the gold booms of the 1930s. The in­crease in the price of gold from $20.67 to $35 an ounce pre­cip­i­tated a fre­netic rush to the moun­tains of the Baguio dis­trict and else­where where gold was pre­vi­ously mined or where it was po­ten­tially mine­able. The gold boom of 1933, the first in Philip­pine min­ing his­tory, led to a vig­or­ous ef­fort to re­vive old claims, stake new ones, and op­er­ate the mines in the Baguio area. The re­nais­sance of the in­dus­try is trace­able to the sen­sa­tional gold find in Bala­toc in 1929. A sec­ond gold boom in 1936 brought in more cap­i­tal and min­ing men, re­sult­ing in the es­tab­lish­ment of hun­dreds of new min­ing com­pa­nies. As a re­sult of these de­vel­op­ments, gold out­put in the Baguio dis­trict alone rose from PhP3,808,124 in 1928 to PhP16,190,795 in 1933. From 1934 to 1937, Bala­toc and Benguet Con­sol­i­dated ranked first and sec­ond in terms of gold pro­duc­tion, with San Mauricio, Mas­bate Con­soli- dated, and An­ta­mok Gold­fields in third, fourth, and fifth po­si­tion, re­spec­tively.

The sec­ond min­ing boom of the late 1930s in­volved not only gold but base me­tals as well. There was a ma­jor up­swing in de­mand for iron and steel, chrome ore, cop­per con­cen­trates, and sil­ver ex­ports as strate­gic war min­er­als. The rise in the price of cop­per from 9 cents to a high of 17 cents per pound pro­vided the in­cen­tive for the cop­per pro­duc­ers to de­velop the mines. It was in this con­text that the Lepanto Con­sol­i­dated Min­ing Com­pany grew and be­came an im­por­tant cop­per and gold pro­ducer be­fore the war. Its growth in the dis­tant com­mu­nity of Mankayan, Moun­tain Prov­ince, was linked to the progress made by the Baguio dis­trict since the ad­vent of the min­ing in­dus­try. With Baguio roads pro­vid­ing the main ac­cess to Lepanto mines, the move­ment of men and ma­chines to Mankayan had sub­stan­tial im­pact on the over­all growth of the dis­trict.

The gold booms which swept the coun­try in the 1930s were para­dox­i­cal in a way as gold had then ceased to be the world­wide cur­rency stan- dard. Gold min­ing was tremen­dously aided by the busi­ness de­fla­tion that fol­lowed in the wake of 1929. At­ten­tion was di­rected to pro­duc­ing gold whose price was sta­ble at a time when prices of all other com­modi­ties were fall­ing. In 1931, when Great Bri­tain reval­ued gold, fur­ther im­pe­tus was given to gold min­ing, and when this was fol­lowed in 1933 by reval­u­a­tion in the United States, the value of gold mounted enor­mously. The im­por­tance of gold min­ing was in­di­cated by the steady ex­pan­sion of plants to in­crease milling fa­cil­i­ties, by the con­struc­tion of new mills, and by the adop­tion of modern min­ing and met­al­lur­gi­cal tech­niques for large-scale op­er­a­tions.

Stock mar­ket ac­tiv­i­ties high­lighted Baguio mines as the lead­ing con­tenders for grub­stakes dur­ing the boom years. The real gold boom, how­ever, oc­curred in 1936 and the wildest stock­mar­ket spec­u­la­tion fo­cused on Benguet Con­sol­i­dated and the Bala­toc Min­ing Com­pany. Other mines in the area which were very much in con­tention in­cluded An­ta­mok Gold­fields, Gold Creek, Ito­gon, Baguio Gold, Benguet Ex­plo­ration, Big Wedge, Atok and Demon­stra­tion. The trad­ing of Benguet Con­sol­i­dated shares was re­garded as a phe­nom­e­non in the min­ing-share mar­ket at the be­gin­ning of the gold boom.

The frenzy over the min­ing stocks and the gold booms did not only tap the full po­ten­tial of Baguio as a min­ing dis­trict but also en­hanced its growth as a com­mu­nity. The in­dus­try brought the men from the low­lands - the tech­ni­cal peo­ple, busi­ness­men, labour­ers, fam­i­lies, oth­ers - to the mines. The com­pa­nies par­tially sub­si­dized the con­struc­tion of roads and bridges lead­ing to the mines and sup­ported the bud­ding avi­a­tion and ship­ping in­dus­try.

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