Filipinos mining Itogon for tourist gold

Mayor advocates mining-tourism marriage in Itogon town

MANILA Tired of the beach or the mountain to chill out every time that you are visiting the Philippines? Then it’s about time you tried going to a mine site.

Yes, closed mine sites in the country are becoming tourist spots, as mining companies are developing these areas into ecotourism parks. In some cases, this happens even before the life of the mine ceases, or in areas affected by a mining accident.

Like in the case of Balog Creek, in Itogon town in the northern Philippine province of Benguet. A tributary of Agno River, the creek has been affected by the accidental discharge of sediment from the tailings pond of Padcal Mine on August 1, following heavy rains brought about by two successive typhoons.

Now, Itogon Mayor Oscar Camantiles has expressed interest in enlisting the creek as part of his town’s ecotourism offering when he was shown pictures of the rehabilitated waterway. In fact, he got so much interested that, according to Padcal officials, the mayor may soon visit the creek and meet up with them to formally discuss the issue.

“The mayor has sent word requesting that the ‘infrastructure installed by Philex Mining in the creek be made permanent,” a statement uploaded on the website of Philex Mining Corp said, quoting Feliciano Diso, Jr, manager at Padcal’s Community Relations Department.

Philex Mining, the country’s biggest gold and copper producer, owns and operates the Padcal Mine. Earlier, it said it would be spending at least one billion pesos (Dh90.32m) for the remediation and rehabilitation of Balog Creek between August 2012 and April 2013, and the rehabilitation of its Tailings Pond No 3 (TP3).

Mr Camantiles has told reporters up north that he foresees the mining-tourism nuptials in Itogon, a first-class municipality with a population of less than 50,000.

“It can be done,” the mayor was quoted by Sun.Star daily newspaper on Sunday as saying.

A mountainous area close to the Philippine summer capital of Baguio City, Itogon boasts cooler climes and stunning views of vegetation that nature lovers and camping and trekking enthusiasts love so much. It also has rugged terrains that can challenge even seasoned mountain climbers.

Already, the mayor has championed the Benguet Corp example, which has mined an area in Itogon for decades and crafted the Balatoc underground mine tour, a first in the country, according to Sun.Star daily newspaper.

“The mine tour is one of the most successful tourism come-ons of the municipality and utilises the abandoned areas of the mining company, in a bid to preserve employment, culture and to familiarise the public to life inside the mines,” Sun.Star added.

At Padcal Mine, Philex Mining has installed eight silt traps along the Maligaboy Creek and is constructing another one at the 2.1-kilometre mark near Balog Creek’s convergence area with Agno River, to contain silt coming from the upstream. Maligaboy is another tributary of the river.

“In addition, Philex Mining has constructed riprap walls in designated areas, and improved access to and along the waterway by constructing footpaths on rugged terrain and building hanging bridges, concrete pathways, and elevated walkways down the creek,” the company said in a recent statement posted on its website.

The riprap walls also serves as temporary storage for the tens of thousands of bags of silt collected by Philex Mining workers from Balog Creek, where the company also constructed a pond and seeded it with 30,000 tilapia fingerlings.

As part of its CSR, or corporate social responsibility, Program, Philex Mining sponsors Itogon’s three-day traverse of Mt. Ugo, which is done every year in March and organised by the Department of Tourism in the CAR, or Cordillera Administrative Region. CAR is home to several indigenous tribes collectively known as Igorot.

The annual event allows participants to trek for three days starting from Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya up to Itogon, Benguet. Nueva Vizcaya is part of the Cagayan Valley Region, in the northern part of the country’s biggest island of Luzon.

Philex Mining, which is facing a fine of at least one billion pesos from government regulators over the accident at TP3, has vowed to clean up and rehabilitate the affected areas in Itogon. It said it was willing to pay the fine provided that the money would be used for the remediation and rehabilitation of Balog Creek and its convergence area with Agno River.

The company, which voluntarily suspended operations at its Padcal Mine starting from the day of the accident on August 1, hopes to resume operations by the middle of this year, as it is now building an open spillway to replace the penstock system of draining clean water from TP3 into Balog Creek through an underground tunnel. Its TP1 and TP2 had long been decommissioned and rehabilitated.

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