Philippine Daily Inquirer

Benguet gold plant draws few min­ers de­spite green tag

- @In­qNa­tional By Karl­ston Lap­niten Mining · Industries · Benguet · Philippines · University of the Philippines · University of the Philippines · Baguio City · Baguio · Department of Environment and Natural Resources · La Trinidad · Itogon · Department of Science and Technology of the Philippines · Mankayan

LA TRINIDAD, BENGUET— What is ar­guably the coun­try’s first “en­vi­ron­ment-friendly” gold pro­cess­ing plant has not been get­ting clients, due to a crack­down on pocket min­ing and op­po­si­tion to the pro­posed “Mi­na­hang Bayan” (the peo­ple’s mine) in the min­ing towns of Benguet prov­ince.

De­vel­oped by sci­en­tists from the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines, the in­te­grated gold-cop­per min­eral pro­cess­ing plant at Si­tio Basil in Barangay Gu­mat­dang in Ito­gon town has pro­cessed only 172 tons (157.85 met­ric tons) of gold ore since it started op­er­at­ing in Jan­uary.

The plant har­nesses prac­ti­cal tech­nol­ogy so it no longer re­quires cyanide or mer­cury to dis­solve rock and dirt from raw gold or cop­per.

Pocket min­ing

It can process 15 MTof gold ore each day, which rep­re­sent 10-and-a-half-day’s work, said Nor­bert Cobaldez, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for tech­ni­cal ser­vices in Cordillera of the De­part­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (DOST).

Small- scale min­ing is a huge in­dus­try in Benguet. It em­ploys over 100,000 pocket min­ers, most of them op­er­ate in Ito­gon and other Benguet towns of Mankayan and Tuba.

An av­er­age of 50 kilo­grams of gold is sold weekly to black mar­ket deal­ers in Baguio City, said Lomino Kan­iteng, pres­i­dent of Benguet Fed­er­a­tion of Small-Scale Min­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

A gram of high qual­ity gold sells for P1,500 while a gram of in­fe­rior qual­ity sells for P900, ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal dealer. This trans­lates to at least P2-bil­lion gold sales an­nu­ally.

But not one as­so­ci­a­tion op­er­ates a Mi­na­hang Bayan. So far, only 12 groups have been granted tem­po­rary small- scale min­ing per­mits or con­tracts by the pro­vin­cial min­ing and reg­u­la­tory board. The rest mine tun­nels openly de­spite the ab­sence of doc­u­ments.

Min­ing laws re­quire smallscale min­ers to work in a Mi­na­hang Bayan or in des­ig­nated small-scale min­ing zones. Op­er­a­tions out­side these ar­eas are con­sid­ered il­le­gal.

Per­mits

Ac­cord­ing to the DOST, many pocket min­ers will not try to haul their day’s take to the plant be­cause they have not been is­sued ore trans­port per­mits.

“When caught with­out per­mit (to trans­port), their ores and ve­hi­cle will be con­fis­cated and they will be charged. That’s why they are afraid of risk­ing [their gold],” Cobaldez said.

The gold-cop­per pro­cess­ing project was pur­sued dur­ing the time of then En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Gina Lopez “when there was a great chance for the re­al­iza­tion of Mi­na­hang Bayan in Benguet,” he said.

A month be­fore the pro­cess­ing plant was launched, Lopez vis­ited an idle open-pit mine in Ito­gon which she wanted to de­velop into a model Mi­na­hang Bayan.

Con­sent

But the Mines and Geo­sciences Bureau re­turned the ap­pli­ca­tions for this prospec­tive mine be­cause of the ab­sence of a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that the min­ers had se­cured the free prior and in­formed con­sent from in­dige­nous peo­ples in the area.

Nancy Ban­tog, DOST Cordillera di­rec­tor, said the P25mil­lion project would in­crease the gold re­cov­ery rate by 80 per­cent. Tra­di­tional gold pro­cesses, us­ing cyanide and mer­cury, have been able to re­cover 40 to 70 per­cent of gold from dirt.

When “all sys­tems are in place,” Cobaldez said, the plant will im­prove the rev­enues of small-scale min­ers. “But the big­gest in­vest­ment would be on its en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. No­more us­ing cyanide and mer­cury,” he said.

 ?? —EV ESPIR­ITU ?? CLEAN GOLD This 2.8-gram gold nugget was ex­tracted from raw ore at the in­te­grated gold-cop­per min­eral pro­cess­ing plant in Ito­gon, Benguet prov­ince, us­ing an en­vi­ron­ment-friendly process.
—EV ESPIR­ITU CLEAN GOLD This 2.8-gram gold nugget was ex­tracted from raw ore at the in­te­grated gold-cop­per min­eral pro­cess­ing plant in Ito­gon, Benguet prov­ince, us­ing an en­vi­ron­ment-friendly process.
 ?? —EV ESPIR­ITU ?? Of­fi­cials of the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines and the De­part­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy ob­serve a stage in the pro­cess­ing of gold with­out the use of cyanide or mer­cury.
—EV ESPIR­ITU Of­fi­cials of the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines and the De­part­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy ob­serve a stage in the pro­cess­ing of gold with­out the use of cyanide or mer­cury.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines