Illegal mining breeds child labor, prostitution in Diplahan


ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR — The illegal mining trade in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga Sibugay is not only threatening the environment and the health of its people, but also breeding other ills that jeopardize the future of its children.

Prostitution and child trafficking have become a big problem in Diplahan. Many have been lured into prostitution in exchange for money — P1,500 for three hours of sex in thatched houses that serve as dens to miners wanting a good time after putting in a hard day’s work.

Children, some as young as seven years old, are also mining for the yellow metal, helping their fathers earn money instead of going to school. Child labor is common in the area, and some earn as low as P30 daily.

“Child trafficking and prostitution are a big problem here. We have filed criminal cases against some people involved in these nefarious activities and as a matter of fact, some of them have already fled Balabag because of the warrants for their arrest," said Inspector Arnel Galaben, the town’s chief of police.

Small-scale miners have been operating here in the past decade, particularly in Diplahan, a remote mountain town where tunnels now dot the once beautiful mountain.

“These illegal miners have been operating here for many years now, perhaps over a decade after gold was discovered in the area," said a government militia deployed in the village of Balabag."

“Now, the environment is under threat since miners still use mercury and cyanide to extract precious metals from the earth and these chemicals find their way into streams and rivers and pose a danger to the health of thousands of people," he added.

And the tunnels dug by miners — some under their houses — are also in danger of collapsing due to poor construction and the lack of safety equipment. Miners who work inside the tunnels don’t wear hard hats or gloves, and authorities are unable to stopping illegal mining operations.

“This mountain is our home, our life and future and gold is life. We have sent our children to schools, gave them good education because of our hard work," said Ofelia, an elderly woman who operates a ball mill in Balabag.

Her house serves as the center of the family’s gold mine operation, milling and office. Three workers operate the mill — one doubles as a rock crusher and the two help each other in running the 24-hour facility.

Since there is no electricity in Balabag, miners and ball mill operators use generators to power their facilities. Gas sells for more than P60 a liter — at least a quarter more than prevailing prices.

“We are not harming the environment. This is our livelihood. We only dig for gold and that’s it," said Armando, a small scale miner who uses horses and paid laborers to haul tons of rocks taken from the tunnels and mountain.

He said he earns at least P50,000 a month, enough to feed his family and two dogs. But despite rising gold prices, basic commodities in the mountain also cost like gold. A bottle of soft drink sells for P25.

As many as 5,000 small-scale miners, he said, are operating in Balabag alone. “There could be more," he said, pointing to a nearby mountain where villagers are also digging for gold. For the miners, Balabag is a haven — of gold, women and more gold. — NPA, GMANews.TV


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