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

Volume 2, Number 31              September 8 - 14,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Gov't Scheme Allots 75% of Diwalwal to Big, Foreign TNCs 

The government plan converting the controversial Diwalwal gold-rush site into a mineral reservation area partly aims to calm down small miners’ unrest. That may be a tall order, a small miners’ spokesman says, because the entry of big, foreign mining investors will only bring a bigger trouble in the community. 

DAVAO CITY - Was the takeover by the government of the Diwalwal gold-rush area a victory for the small-scale miners, particularly the subsistence miners?  

This is at present the big question in Diwalwal as the government announced that the lion's share of Diwalwal's gold would go to big miners after all. On Thursday, Horacio Ramos, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), announced before a briefing attended by President Arroyo in Diwalwal that 75% of the 8,100-hectare Mineral Reservation Area (MRA) will be allotted to large mining companies, including foreign ones. The small-scale and subsistence miners, who currently occupy 729 hectares within the MRA, will be allotted 25% of the MRA, said Ramos. 

This particular area, which is said to be the richest in gold, had been the target of a company called Southeast Mindanao Gold Mining Corp., which is controlled by people with links to the Canadian-owned Marcopper Mining Corp. The small miners had resisted the entry of Southeast, which partnered with JB Management and Mining Corp. (JBMMC), resulting in a long-running conflict and, eventually, the government's takeover.  

It is not cleat at this point whether the contentious 729 hectares are part of the 75% that will be opened to large-scale and foreign mining. Ramos said at the briefing that the technical working group the DENR has created to plan the rehabilitation of Diwalwal is now "progressing toward converting the Diwalwal area into a mineral reservation that would allow large-scale and small-scale" miners.  

Ramos said President Arroyo will sign on Oct. 11 the order declaring the 8,100 hectares as the MRA. He also pointed out that the 75% share for large miners "actually fits the Diwalwal situation" in which both small-scale and large-scale miners are operating.  

The present operations in Diwalwal, he also said, are "not real small-scale mining operations. (These) involve the use of explosives and medium-scale operations. And that's one of the reasons, Madame President, why we are proceeding to convert the area into a mineral reservation area."  

At one point, the President asked Ramos about the fate of the small miners once the big miners come in. "We will review the arrangement if it is acceptable," Ramos replied.  

40,000 miners 

There are about estimated 40,000 people in Diwalwal, most of them miners in companies such as JBMMC, Blucor and Helica, the so-called Big Three in Diwalwal that DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez described as "large-scale" mining operators. The small miners in Diwalwal - those who work in the mines of the Big Three and those who mine purely for subsistence - have been struggling for years, since Diwalwal's discovery in 1983, to be recognized by the government. They have also been fighting the entry of Southeast, which, through JBMMC, allegedly used violent and divisive means to gain control of the area, a charge that Southeast and JBMMC denies. (See main story.)  

Franco Tito, the barangay chairman of Mount Diwata, the official name of Diwalwal, has said that the small and subsistence miners do not want to be booted out of the area or to be employed by big mining companies such as Southeast-JBMMC. "We, not just the big miners, should be given a chance to grow," he said. The good thing about the government's plan on Diwalwal, he said, is that it is supposed to eliminate the employee-employer relationship that has been a bane for the farmers.  

Achieving that goal, however, can be a problem once the big and foreign firms come in. As Alvarez himself admitted, what Diwalwal needs at this point are mining companies, such as those from Canada, Australia and South Africa, that have the equipment and technology for large-scale mining. "All we ask," Alvarez reportedly said, " is for these companies to be fair to their employees."  

Last month, Alvarez declared that the small and subsistence miners - "those who dig like rats in the tunnels -- in Diwalwal -- should be given more share of the gold. Most of the miners in Diwalwal -- with the exception of JBMMC, which pays its workers a measly daily wage of P150 a day, according to miners -- get 40% of the total gold ore production while the companies get 60%. However, that hundreds, if not thousands, share the 40%.  

The entry of the big miners, including foreign ones, is assured under the government's scheme in Diwalwal, which is anchored on the Mining Act, which, in turns, allows foreign mining companies tremendous benefits, including 100% ownership. The Canadians and Australians, who own some of the world's largest mining companies, have expressed their intention to invest in Diwalwal. Apparently, the Americans are, too, if the presence of U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone in Diwalwal during President Arroyo's visit on Thursday is any indication.  

But Tito criticized the planned entry of foreign mining companies. "The entry of the big ones here will cause trouble. Filipinos should be given priority because even without government support, we managed. Government should help the small miners so we can become big, too," Tito a Mindanao news agency last week.  

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who was tasked by Malacañang to keep the peace in Diwalwal while the takeover was being done, also expressed disapproval of the entry of foreign firms. "What we should prohibit are those who are not (Filipinos). This thing about accepting Australians, Canadians, Japanese, that's crazy. (Filipinos) first," Duterte said. Carlos H. Conde/Bulatlat.com    

SPECIAL REPORT: Gov't Takeover To Bring In More Mining Giants to Diwalwal

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