Saturday, June 25, 2011

Development Aggression,Second Quarter of 2011,Part V:Mount Diwalwal

The Diwata Mountains span a good portion of Eastern Mindanao's interior.From Surigao del Sur Province in the north all the way through Agusan del Sur and ComVal (Compostela Valley) Provinces heading south until finally they slope down onto the fertile plains of Davao del Norte Province.Mount Diwata itself sits on the southern portion of the range,in the municipality of Monkayo in ComVal Province.Home to four Lumad Tribes ("Lumad"is a generic term for all Malayan Animist Hilltribes on Mindanao):

1) Manobo

2) Mandaya

3) Mangguangan

4) Dibabawon

These tribes have inhabited that part of the mountain range since time immemorial.Though gold has been produced and traded there almost as long it didn't adversely effect members of these four tribes until the early 1980s.In August of 1980 Mandaya Tribesmen Datu Camilo"Kamini"Banad began gold panning at a newly discovered site called Bayugan III in the town sharing that name in Agusan del Sur Province.By New Year of 1983 the drought effecting most of the island caused the water levels in the Bayugan River to drop so low that even a manual endeavour like panning for gold became nearly impossible.Holding on as long as he could,by March of that year Banad was forced to return to his home village along the Naboc River in the municipality of Monkayo in the neighbouring province of Davao del Norte,in what is today ComVal,or Compostela Valley Province.

After a non-productive spring and summer Datu Banad decided once again to try his luck panning for gold,beginning in August,this time on the Naboc River itself.Not finding very much of anything he recalled that as a youth,in 1973,he had served as a guide for two Japanese treasure hunters and a Filipino engineer,as they scoured the mountains searching for promising finds.He recalled that on the day their expedition ended they had all been well up river,atop a plateau near the PICOP depot in Sitio Balite.PICOP,or Paper Industries Corporation,held logging concessions over much of Northern Mindanao,feeding their huge paper plants in the neighbouring Region of Caraga.On the day in question the Japanese and their engineer had agreed that 2 kilometers upriver from the depot there was a rich vein of gold.Remembering the conversation Banad resolved to begin searching up river.

On September 21st,1983 Banad and 2 of his fellow villagers,Benjamin Wenceslao and Eugenio"Boy"Avila set off downstream,to throw off the persistent village stragglers who always followed him as he panned the Naboc River.After trekking a considerable distance the three men cut into the jungle and reversed course,upriver,but walking far inland from their village.Reaching the targetted area Datu Bamad instructed his 2 companions to spread out and the three began prospecting.Panning for gold is an incredibly simple process though the actual mechanics,like most any physical act,take a bit of practice.Working on the premise of gravity,using a flat tin pan,a miner scoops up river sand or gravel with just a modicum of water and swirls the contents at a 45 degree angle.By holding it at an angle the heavier sediment in the pan will sink to the bottom.Tipping out the water and excess sediment one keeps swirling the pan's contents until,if one is fortunate,they are left with an iota of gold,usually as dust.Though gold is sometimes found in rivers and creeks,this can only happen when a vein of gold,a large underground deposit of mixed ore,is shattered,exposed to rain or underground streams and then,just as in panning,gravity does the rest.

At the first target site all three men quickly came up with gold dust but because it was late in the day they decided to pack it in and return to their village,after first swearing each other to secrecy.Early the next day,September 22nd,the three men once again feigned as if heading down stream and then retracing their steps made their way to the productive site of the previous day.Again coming up with gold dust rather quickly,Banad decided to try and find the source,the shattered vein of gold.Continuing upstream they eventually passed the now abandoned PICOP depot where Datu Banad had first heard those words 10 years before.Panning again this time their gold dust had large flecks interspersed throughout it,a sure sign that the men were moving in the right direction.In fact,panning was so good that the three decided to bed down for the night so as not to lose the great progress they had made thus far.The next morning,September 23rd the thee men set off before daybreak and began steadily climbing in elevation as they followed the river which had narrowed considerably in the long trek.Before long the river,now little more than a creek,split into 4 feeders,showing the group that they were making progress in their search for the river's headwaters.Now the men panned every other hour and always they achieved more positive results than they had in their previous try.

Walking two hours from where the Naboc River had split into four feeders they reached a high plateau ringed with steep cliff faces.Just past noon they reached the edge of Sitio Balite,an unihabited stretch of jungle that PICOP had just vacated after four years of heavy logging.Just above the plateau was a PICOP bridge,spanning what was now a slow moving,single creek.Not too far away was the PICOP bunkhouse which had quickly fallen into disuse.Here the three men panned again.Starting in sand they were excited to find small nuggets in eack try.Next they tried the creek's gravel bed and there too they found decently sized gold nuggets.It was clear to Banad that the PICOP logging road had been constructed through a gold field,shattering part of the vein.He knew it was the logging road because had it been an old shattering by earthquake there would be very little gold in the gravel bed,it would be instead in residual deposits in sand along the stream bed's edges.Knowing they were very close to a rich find Banad had Avila prepare lunch.Afterwards he had Wenceslao head upstream,and asked him to look and see if the logging road traversed the mountain at any higher elevations.If so Banad said,begin panning just below the road.As Weceslao departed upstream Avila and Banad busied themselves at their present site.

Later that afternoon Wenceslao returned and confirmed that indeed PICOP did have a segment of that newly constructed logging road located near the top of the mountain.With that the 3 rushed upstream reaching it as the sun sat low in the sky.Still,before nightfall the 3 had recovered enough gold dust,flecks and nuggets to fill a small bottle.Wenceslao had,under Banad's direction,discovered the motherlode.
The source stood almost atop Bundok Diwata,or Mount Diwata.The mountain,which gave the entire mountain range its name was known locally as"Bundok Diwalwal,"a play on its actual name.While"Diwata"means"Idol,"as in"religious idol,""Diwalwal"means"Absolutely Exhausted,"named as such for the feelings it generated whenever someone hiked the trail in its entierty.

The next day,a bottle of gold in hand,the three men happily returned home after once again swearing each other to secrecy.Though the three men continued prospecting at the source for another satisfying three weeks,word of the fortuitous discovery spread quickly.Fearing being shut out of their own discovery,Banad,Avila,and Wenceslao jointly filed six separate DOLs,or Declarations of Location,with the BFD (Bureau of Forest Development).DOLs are effectively Prospecting Claims.Following suit other villagers began to file DOLs of their own.In fact,it got to the point where Datu Banad began growing paranoid that one of them,and not him,had staked a claim on the motherlode.With this in mind Banad gathered his fellow villagers and convinced them that they could all increase their chances of striking it rich by forming a partnership.Taking the villagers that agreed with him Banad formed the Balite Communal Portal Mining Corporation,or BCPMC.

By December,less than 60 days later,local clans from all 4 of the tribes living on and around the mountain had begun following suit,filing DOLs of their own up and down the Naboc River.With the flurry in claims came a barrage of disadvantageous offers that tried to manipulate the cooperative into a weak position.Still,Banad lacked the neccessary business savvy and technical know-how needed for a successful endeavour.Realising that not only was he himself in way over his head but that he had led his people into a very vulnerable position as well,Datu Banad began looking for ways in which to navigate what was for him uncharted waters.With more than a little trepidation then he took the plunge and on December 12th,1983 he entered into a Joint Operating Agreement with Apex Mining.Just after New Year,January of 1984,PICOP attempted to re-assert what it felt were its rights inherent within their timberconcession and closed the single logging road leading upcountry into Sitio Balite.Even without a road more and more people crowded the small mountain each day.Then,on February 2nd,1984 local agents filed sixteen separate DOLs for the Marcopper Mining Corporation,all of which were contigious to those filed by Datu Banad's Balite Communal Portal Mining Company,or BCPMC.Marcopper,a subsidiary of the Canadian-based multi-national giant Placer Dome,was the company who would single handedly create the worst mining disaster in world history when 12 million metric tonnes of tailings flowed into a 26 kilometer long river on the Philippine island of Marinduque when an improperly constructed dam gave way,though that was still more than a decade into the future.

By the Summer of 1985 the once isolated village of less than 600 Tribesmen was bursting at the seems with an estimated 20,000 people from every corner of the Philippines.Anytime gold is discovered in a new place people will embellish their stories of newly found riches so that by the end of their tall tale people are already considering making a go of it themselves.Still,even without the gross exaggeration that always accompanies a recent discovery Mount Diwalwal truly is a motherlode.In a country where the average wage is less than 300 Pesos a day in 2011,nearly 30 years after its discovery,the mountain still produces well over 6,000 Pesos a day for each independent prospector.By law all small scale miners at Diwalwal must sell their yield through the Davao City Station of the Banko ng Sentral (Central Bank of the Philippines) which reports well over P2 Billion in purchases a year just out of a 729 hectare site atop the mountain.It is no wonder then that people continuously flocked to thesite in those heady early years,causing the community to increase exponentially with total disregard for planning and infrastructure.As with all small scale mining communities of any size brothels,bars and drug dealing became very well entrenched incredibly early on.

By 1985 Marcopper's attorneys had performed their due dilligence and had learned that in 1931 then Governor-General of the Philippines,Dwight F.Davis,had issued Proclamation #369 creating the"Agusan-Davao-Surigao Forest Reserve."The 1,927,400 hectare reservation covered the length of the island,from north to south.Within this vast tract lay Mount Diwalwal.According to Philippine Law,mining rights within Forest Reserves fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Mining and Geosciences,or BMG (today known as the MGB),with whom one must file for a Prospecting Permit (as opposed to the aforementioned DOL which offers the same legal protections).Ergo,a DOL through the BFD was useless.Realising this all-important information Marcopper abandoned its sixteen DOLs and immediately filed for Prospecting Permits instead.On July 1st,1985 Marcopper received its nervously awaited Permits covering a grand total of 4,941.67 hectares that extended across the provincial line into Davao del Norte's municipality of Cateel.Interestingly,showing a huge disconnect between BMG's parent entity the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Forest Development the Prospecting Permits fully encompassed every single one of the DOLs issued thus far.This would be the start of a geopolitical clusterfuc* that continues up until the present.Handing out the same parcel of land to different groups is never smart but doing so when that parcel happens to contain some of the world's most valuable gold fields is insane.

Just 4 months later,on November 11th,1985,moving at the speed of light Marcopper applied for an Exploratory Permit.Lo and behold,on March 10th,1986 the Bureau of Mines and Geo-Sciences (BMG) issued Marcopper a two year Exploration Permit,#133,and the company began sinking test holes.Drilling into the mountain they took core samples which aside from confirming the obvious presence of gold also revealed the quality of the metal.The company was astounded,it had almost blindly stumbled into one of the planet's most profitable gold fields.When BGM issued this permit there were already nearly 80,000 people living in a squatter settlement stretching 6 kilometers out from the mountain on all sides.Mining had proliferated to such a degree that it now encompassed more than 10,000 hectares and houses sat atop tunnels creating a potential deadly disaster.

Competition was so keen that adits,or side tunnels off of the portal,or main tunnel,often collapsed because of parallel adits from competitors being excavated mere centimeters away.Despite the huge buildup the mining was relegated to rudimentary methodology.24 hours a day tunnels barely wide enough for a skinny adult held 5 to 6 labourers,sometimes as young as 8 or 9 years of age.Placed head to toe the labourers worked with shovels,picks, mallets,and even chisels to separate ore from the tunnel walls.Filling half-sacks,nylon rice bags holding up to 45 kilograms of materiel they would signal when their bag was full and each labourer would crawl out backwards,centimeter by centimeter as the miner in question dragged their bag of rocks.Placing the sack at the collection point the labourer would re-enter his tunnel,this time near the entrance with the other labourers having quickly crawled back in since they were paid by the bag.

At the collection point young boys and elderly men,sometimes women,swung sledge hammers,mallets and carpenter's hammers as they pulverised the contents of each sack,having first dumped the contents onto the ground.Re-bagging the pulverised contents they hauled the 45 kilogram sacks on their back to rod mills,whose own labourers fed the contents into the mill.For 4 hours the mills ground the ore after which the mill labourers directed the milled ore into a sluice which like panning,indeed the gold vein itself,also operated upon the simple premise of gravity.Gold,being a heavier element,sinks to the bottom with other heavy materiel.If the mine operator owned his own rod mill,which was rarely the case,he would have the top materiel,or slag,re-fed into the mill to be re-processed and might repeat the entire process three times before finally discarding it as waste.The heavier bottom materiel is then processed in a hand mill for 2 hours and then deposited in a tank or small pond,mixed with mercury,and allowed to stand for 30 minutes.

Mercury attracts the gold and together the two substances ammalgamate into a unitary substance.The mercury/gold is then filtered repeatedly through cheese cloth which catches the gold.Still highly impure it is combined with additional chemicals,sometimes even common soap,to try and remove as much of the mercury as possible.In the end the still impure substance is bled by oxy/acetylene torch which evaporates the mercury.The result is commercial grade gold.

By 1986 Diwalwal,as it was then universally known by that nickname,began stratifying between smaller and bigger operations.The bigger operations stopped hiring labourers and instead sub-contracted the labour,hiring foremen who were given a fair share of the production and in turn hired their own labourers,provided their own equipment and so on.The usual split between owner and foreman was 50% of the gross after an initial 20% had been skimmed for"Revolutionary Taxes"to the NPA and costs associated with common industrial sized generators and water pumps that were"rented"on a share basis.Out of what amounted to 40% of the gross production the foreman was responsible for 100% of operating costs inside the mine.Post-production costs like milling came out of the owner's 40% gross share.

As this rampant small scale mining continued increasing to the point where Marcopper felt compelled to neutralise these threats to its bottom line and so on April 11th,1986 the company filed a petition with BMG asking the agency to cancel whatever rights and privileges were exercised by DOL holders within Marcopper's 4,941 hectare tenement.The company's attorneys argued that because the gold field lay within a Forest Reserve DOLs were useless.Moreover they claimed that while extraction of mineral resources was permitted in Forest Reserves it was under the auspices of the BGM and NOT the BFD.

Aware that their DOLs lay within the recently granted Marcopper tenement Apex Mining,its partner,Datu Banad's Balite Communal Portal Mining Co-operative and virtually everybody else involved in gold mining on and around Mount Diwalwal was already deeply opposed to the Canandian-based multi-national.By July Apex had been served with a copy of Marcopper's petition.On September 23rd of that year,1986,,Apex responded and in its petition asking that Marcor's request be denied by claiming that the tract was NOT within a Forest Reserve.Finally,on December 9th the BMG ruled on the case,albeit without explaining how a declared Forest Reserve had lapsed,and suprisingly favoured Apex.It dismissed Marcopper's request and declared Exploration Permit #133 to be null and void.

Marcopper,though shocked at the turn of events didn't miss a step as it filed an appeal with the BMG's parent entity,the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,or DENR.On April 15th,1987 the DENR completely overturned its dubsidiary agency's decision.Exploration Permit #133 was restored in full though it ignored the issue at the crux of the dynamic,the multitude of DOLs (Declarations of Location) placed with the BFD (Bureau of Forest Development),all of which lay within the now re-affirmed Marcopper tenement and how the two conflicting permit systems were parceling out the same valuable rights to different people.

Apex then filed the de riguer Petition for Reconsideration with the DENR but was denied.Not willing to roll over it then filed an Appeal with the Office of the President,of then President Corazon"Cory"Aquino.Channeled via the Office's Assistant Executive for Legal Affairs,Cancio C.Garcia it was ultimately dismissed and in his Decision Mr.Garcia made a point to markedly re-affirm the DENR's Decision to restore Exploration Permit #133.

In the larger world around them the NPA on Mindanao had reached its own apex in terms of manpower and organisational accumen.Dilwalwal's Revolutionary Taxes played a crucial role in this parallel exponential increase across the board.Strategically the mountain is a key position,a Regional lynchpin in its role as the bridge between its own Davao Region and the neighbouring Caraga Region.Both Caraga and Davao,then like now,were heavily infiltrated by the Maoist guerilla movement.However,there were four times as many guerillas at the end of the 1980s than there are today.In terms of mass base of support the NPA received an almost universal acclaim...but that was about to change with a two year long reign of terror as the group purged what it believed to be DPAs,or Deep Penetration Agents.

I will continue with this examination of Diwalwal in my next Development Aggression entry,"Development Aggression,Second Quarter of 2011,Part V:Mount Diwalwal,Part 2".

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