DIWALWAL, COMPOSTELA VALLEY PROVINCE — Abantero Angelito Velasco, 59, braved Diwalwal two decades ago when he worked as a miner in this contested gold-rush highland known for its killer landslides and murders. But Velasco eventually came to settle here, chipping the veins for gold in the dangerous mine tunnels in this village some six-hour ride from Davao City.
“Our work is hard but we have no other means,” Velasco told Davao Today in an interview. “This is our lifeblood even if it is very dangerous.”
He said to be out of Diwalwal with no livelihood is equally “fatal” like the cave-ins that oftentimes occur in the area.
After eight years of government control, the mineral reservation site in Diwalwal has been eyed by big interest groups, leaving Velasco and more than 40,000 villagers in a constant threat of displacement. Small miners resent government’s policy allowing big private mining firms to take over the site.
Towards the end of President Gloria Arroyo’s term, the government plans to hastily bid the 729-hectare gold rush site to private companies. Mt. Diwata Barangay Captain Franco Tito called the bidding “another one of (Arroyo’s) unscrupulous deals.” Early in June, successive protests here highlighted the villagers’ opposition.
To buy time, the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC), the state agency that manages the Diwalwal gold mining project, postponed the bidding from May 14 to June 7; and then, later, to July 30.
PMDC said they had to wait for the next administration to decide on Diwalwal and to allow prequalified bidders to do a thorough “due diligence” study.
“Gilipat-lipat mi ani sa gobyerno (We were given the run around by the government),” Reynaldo Elijorde, chairman of the Nagkahiusang Katawhan sa Diwalwal (United People in Diwalwal) or Nagkadiwa told Davao Today.
On June 22, at least six local organizations gathered to oppose the bidding and take over of a large-scale mining firm in Mt. Diwata, said Nagkadiwa’s Elijorde.
Active protests here belie PMDC’s claim that it had already obtained the consent of the community. The unrest may go full-blown if the villagers are pushed to the fringes because of the government action.
The renewed tension in Mt. Diwata springs from the government’s plan to bid the high-grade gold veins beneath the populated 729-hectare gold rush area to mining giants.
In April, PMDC has pre-qualified four giant firms who expressed interest in Mt. Diwata. The 729-hectare area is the fourth site within the 8,100-hectare Diwalwal Mineral Reservation Area to be auctioned off in a span of one year. The mining reservation site was declared under full government control in 2002.
Earlier studies have placed the estimated gold reserves in Diwalwal from US$1 billion to US$18 billion.