Gold panners plead to DENR for mining ban exemption
ITOGON, BENGUET—Saying that their source of living does not harm the environment, Ibaloy and Kankanaey gold panners have asked the government to exempt them from a crackdown on small-scale mining in Cordillera.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu banned pocket mining on Sept. 17, shortly after a massive landslide triggered by Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut) buried 89 people, most of them small-scale miners, in Itogon town.
Cimatu’s directive was followed by a government geohazard report, which said that landslide areas in the town had become unstable and were no longer suitable for tunneling as well as for settlement.
But the Itogon Gold Panners Livelihood Association said that panning minerals does not involve any environmentally hazardous operation, unlike the traditional blasting and tunneling undertaken by pocket miners.
Gold panning requires no more than a pan or a sluice (mill stream) to wash and separate gold from soil and sand, the group said, adding that panners often venture to work at river following a heavy rain.
“It is safe both for the people and environment and does not prejudice the government in terms of financial losses in revenues or taxes,” said Santiago Golingab, the association president.
The group described gold panning as an indigenous trade since “time immemorial,” even before the first large mining company operated in the town at the start of the 20th century. Itogon is home to the country’s oldest corporate mines.
Golingab said residents, whose livelihood depended on tourism, which was disrupted by Ompong’s devastation, had resorted to panning, which he described as “a natural indigenous skill” of the community.
“As though this was not tragic enough, more devastation befell us as the very government that has sworn to protect us seems to have betrayed us,” the group said. —KARLSTON LAPNITEN
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