The history of mining in the Philippines is one that is replete with challenges and triumphs as well as non-ending debates.
Long before the Spaniards came, our ancestors had been trading with raw gold as medium among the Chinese, Japanese, and Indian merchants in Asia. Yet, it was the Royal Decree of 1837 that was officially recognized as the first Philippine mining law which paved the way for the opening of the Lepanto mine for copper and gold in 1864.
Nevertheless, the conquistadores were not as aggressive as the Americanos were in expanding the mining industry. Many of the army troops that came over had experiences in the California and Klondike gold rush that started in 1849. By then, the United States had already adopted the gold standard for its federal monetary system.
Hence, armed with the Philippine Bill of 1902, the nation’s second mining law, the veterans who had deeper understanding of the country’s geology, stayed on to explore its treasured mines of raw gold.
Baguio was developed, not only because of its invigorating climate, but also because the Benguet Mine, along with seventeen other nearby gold mines, was an attractive magnet to the colonialists. The industry turned fully-blown with the Commonwealth Act 137 in 1936 that became the nation’s third mining law.
This period was referred to as the peak or the boom years when forty gold mines were operating and exporting as much as thirty tons annually, until the new invaders came.
But it was also the time when indigenous peoples like the Igorots started to be forcefully driven out of their ancestral lands. Certainly, during their short but infamous reign, the Japanese also exploited the nation’s iron, copper, chromite, and manganese ores for their military campaigns.
After the devastation of World War II, Filipino leaders were deceived into signing the Laurel-Langley Agreement, together with the Parity Rights Amendment supposedly to rehabilitate the nation, in a manner that would benefit both the U.S. and the Philippines. However, it turned out to be more favorable to the former colonizers as copper mines were established, aside from their retaining owner- ship of the gold deposits.
Atlas, Sipalay, and Philex were major sources of these two metals in the late 1950s.
Then, a fellow Filipino took advantage of the situation two decades later by imposing martial law. Former President Ferdinand Marcos declared Presidential Decree No. 463 in 1974 which became the fourth mining law in the country. With it, he gained full control over the mines since the previous treaties with the Americans had expired.
Yet, the greed had to end with our oppressed people’s determination to regain control of the government. Despite the simultaneous closure of fourteen metal mines and the low prices for which our metal products competed in the international market, the industry did not totally collapse. Gold panning grew as a small-scale industry which became a major source of livelihood for families that took the risks in areas like Mount Diwalwal, this time in Mindanao.
Thus, there arose the need for the newly-established government to restructure the mining industry. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942) became the nation’s fifth mining law which has not yet been revoked up to the present, although it has ignited a lot of controversies.
The history of mining in the Philippines continues even as the government and elected representatives in congress debate the future direction of this vital industry.