Balatoc Mines, the only mining attraction in the Philippines.
In my visits to Baguio, I usually drop by at Mine’s view park to see the view of Benguet’s gold and copper mines. From the viewpoint, one could see the Balatoc, Antamok and Atok mines. Last week I went to Baguio to visit the yearly Panagbenga Festival, and part of this Baguio trip is to visit the Balatoc Mines.
Balatoc mines is about 35 minutes ride from Baguio City proper, passing though steep and narrow roads. In Ilocano dialect, “Balitok” literally means gold. This mine used to be the largest in Cordillera, established by Benguet Corporation. BC is reputed as the pioneer of the first mining operation in the Philippines.It was in 1997, that the company launched eco-tourism offerings, with its main objective to share the gold mining heritage in Cordillera.
We arrived there in time for the tour, there were about 3 groups consisting of 17 people. We were given a token with a numbers pressed on it, put on the mandatory boots and miner’s hat for protection inside the tunnel.
We headed to the mining territory, the tour guide talked about the stages in mining, oriented us with the basic tools used by a miner inside. She allowed us to have a feel and take home some rock samples. Rock samples in native form before it becomes gold. As we went further inside the tunnel, we had experienced more thrills. To vividly tell the story of what happens inside the tunnel is to spoil the essence of the tour. For now I will not break the omerta, what happens inside remains a secret until you experience it yourself =)
LIFE OF A GOLD MINER
Being a quasi-miner for a day provided me a glimpses of a miners’ life. The miner goes to work early in the morning. It is mandatory for them to get a token- circular metal impressed with numbers, because this will serve as their identification. One is responsible for accounting the miners after the shift, when a token is missing, it would mean that a miner is left inside the tunnel. They spent 8 to 9 hours inside a tunnel where visibility and ventilation is poor. They take their simple meals inside. Their typical activities are centered on toiling the very depths of the mountain – digging, blasting, drilling, and use of explosives. In actual mining, the temperature inside is hot, as a result most miners take off their clothing apparel except their underwear. They douse themselves with water to temporarily resist the heat. Chemical deposits from the explosives are toxic hence harmful to their health; Blasting will expose the miner with enormous dusts which can cause breathing problems.
Life inside the goldfields must have been difficult; A miner succumbs to homesickness, loneliness, isolation and impending physical danger of their life and limbs. Accidents and fatalities await. All these with the hope of taking few nuggets of gold for the mining company. With all these dangers, are their wages enough to sustain their basic necessities? Aside from the mandatory health insurance, are miners given programs to promote their health? Programs to promote their healthy lifestyle, satisfying family life and safety conditions of work.
Balatoc mines has already closed its operations although there are still small-scale mining in the area. The area was once rich with minerals and unexploited mountains. I wonder if after all the extractions of gold, is the life in the mining village improved?