Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 30              September 1 - 7,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Bulatlat.com Special Report ON MINING part II: Mount Diwalwal

Diwalwal Folk Caught in the Grip of Violence, Greed

(First of a series)

Mt. Diwalwal is said to hold the Philippines' largest gold deposit, perhaps one of the largest in the world, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Years were when a miner can earn a few thousand bucks in a day. With the new-found wealth, however, has come the problem of peace and order. 

By Daisy C. Gonzales and Carlos H. Conde


MOUNT DIWATA, Compostela Valley Province -- For Solita Cruz (not her real name) and Aloma Zamora, going home is not an option at the moment. "I'm afraid something might happen to me and my family," says Solita. "I have decided to fight back. I am going to file charges against those responsible for the death of my husband," says Aloma. 

Home to Solita and Aloma was Mount Diwata, the infamous gold-rush mountain more popularly known as Diwalwal, which means, literally, a tongue sticking out due to exhaustion, which is what happens when one goes there on foot. In Diwalwal, dreams become a reality -- or they die with the thousands who have perished in numerous cave-ins, landslides and murders. 

Solita's and Aloma's paths crossed on July 25, when Solita's husband, along with other workers from the JB Management and Mining Corp. (JBMMC), was allegedly ordered by their superiors to literally smoke out the miners working in tunnels above the one owned by JBMMC in Diwalwal. The JBMMC workers allegedly burned rubber tires and emptied acetylene tanks into a tunnel called Australia; the smoke also affected the Bulbscor and R-3 tunnels - all rival tunnels of JBMMC. Forty-three miners and workers fell ill. One miner, Roberto Zamora, Aloma's husband, died; he had actually survived the smoking but died when he went back to the Australia tunnel a few days later. 

The July 25 smoking was the latest of several similar poisoning incidents since 1999. These smokings have injured more than a hundred miners and workers, mainly in the tunnels of Australia and Helica. 

Last month, a distraught Solita arrived in a government office with her six-year-old daughter, an eight-year-old son and a nephew. Judging by the belongings with them - two plastic bags and a traveling bag filled with clothes - it was clear that Solita and her children had no intention of going back to Diwalwal. 

Solita told a government official that days after the July 25 smoking, her husband disappeared. But she just got a call from him; he told her that he was all right and that he was in a safe place. "My conscience is bothering me," Solita quoted him as saying. She says her husband had admitted participation in the smoking. 

Since then, policemen had paid Solita's neighborhood "visits"; the men would ask Solita's neighbors about her whereabouts and they would stay in an eatery in front of Solita's house, watching. It was too much for Solita to bear, so they started moving from one place to another, until they decided to seek help from the government official, who is now taking care of Solita and her children. 

Aloma faces the same danger as Solita. On at least two occasions during her husband's wake in a Nabunturan funeral home, armed men visited her. One of them told her that she didn't need to have her husband's body autopsied "because they (the coroner) will chop him to pieces." Aloma replied that that is not true and that she would definitely have her husband's corpse examined. The man retorted: "It's up to you then. But be careful tonight." Nothing happened that night but Aloma said a white Mazda pick-up and a motorcycle would later park near the funeral home, as if staking out the place. 

Later, Aloma joined 5,000 miners from Diwalwal in blocking the Tagmanok Bridge in Mawab town, in this province. They were demanding justice for the victims of the smoking and other killings in Diwalwal that, according to the miners, are meant to drive them out of Diwalwal. Roberto's coffin was also brought to the barricade. 

Even though it is not the military's job to deal with demonstrations, the Army -- complete with armored personnel carriers and high-powered firearms - sent soldiers to Tagmanok Bridge to disperse the miners. The APC broke through the miners' barricades, running over at least one miner (he survived) as well as Zamora's corpse. Goons called the Black Ninjas who are said to be the JBMCC's men destroyed what the APC didn't; they even tossed pieces of wood on Zamora's body. 

Footage of the Tagmanok Bridge dispersal, including the one that shows the corpse being run over by the APC, was shown on national television and showed to the rest of the country the dire situation of the Diwalwal miners and their families, many of them dead, some of them - like Solita and Aloma - living in fear, caught in the web of violence that resulted from the power struggle over this mountain of gold.

The discovery

It is hard to imagine that the 6 feet by 4 feet tunnel, which narrows as it snakes down in the belly of a portion of Diwalwal called Balite, leads to a maze of tunnels that can accommodate 200 people. "But these tunnels do," says Franco Tito, the barangay chairman of Diwalwal. The sulfur-like smell, he points out, indicates that people are working in the shafts down below, burrowing at the earth, for a shot at what Tito calls "the good life." "People in the outside world oftentimes take what we do here for granted. But as you can see and smell, this is not at all easy," Tito says.

But gold in Diwalwal has always been easy. Since Lumads headed by Datu Camilio Banad discovered gold there in 1982, people from all over Southern Mindanao had come in droves, initially using crude tools and equipment as they burrow into the mountain, creating tunnels that, according to some miners, now resemble a plate of noodles.

The area is said to hold the Philippines' largest gold deposit, perhaps one of the largest in the world. According to figures from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, some P2 billion worth of gold is produced in Diwalwal annually and that Diwalwal gold account for 20 percent of the country's production. In the early days, according to Tito and several miners interviewed for this report, some guy from nowhere would just pop in Diwalwal, start digging and, at the end of the day, easily make thousands of pesos.

Indeed, the gold was so abundant and the people so few (there were no big miners then, unlike today) that Diwalwal soon became a replica of the gold-rush site in San Francisco, California in the last century. Bars and brothels sprouted. Trade and commerce became so brisk that an enterprising businessman could make thousands in a week just by selling Medicol; the businessman wouldn't even have to think about becoming a miner himself. 

Along with the easy money came the law-and-order problem. Because the area was largely unregulated by government, anybody -- among them criminals from all over the country -- could just come and blend in with the population. Soon, miners were beginning to guard their respective turfs and since they could only do this by having arms, they turned to the military and the police. Miners would rent their firearms (the rent was called an SOP, for "standard operating procedure"); an M16 rifle could be rented for P30,000 a month while a .45-caliber automatic pistol could be had for P15,000 a month. The cops and the soldiers needn't have to mine gold themselves.

Soon, Diwalwal became the murder capital of the Philippines, with bodies turning up dead practically every day. People also would go missing -- and nobody seemed to care. (Criminals and strangers would come to Diwalwal and use aliases.) But Tito puts a positive spin to it by saying that the opportunities Diwalwal presented to people, particularly those with shady pasts and those who are too illiterate to even dream about having a "normal" job, was real. "If an ex-convict wanted to turn a new leaf," says Tito in Visayan, "Diwalwal was the place."

In spite of the violence, which sometimes bordered on the insane (the story goes that a drunk man went home one night; when he found the street much too dark, he lit it up by firing his M-16 rifle into the ground), the people of Diwalwal stuck it out and shrugged the violence off, as though it was part of their daily life that nobody should be worried about. Bulatlat.com 

(Part Two: Entry of huge mining firm turns Diwalwal into powder keg)


(Next week: Will the DENR's formula for Diwalwal work?) 

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