Amid the spectacular beauty of the northern Philippines, I recently attended the 1st summit on Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) in Kalinga province. On its face this meeting was a modest local gathering about small scale mining in the region, but in fact it is a harbinger of important changes coming to small scale gold mining not only in the Philippines, but throughout the world, as small scale gold mining takes on the challenge of going mercury-free.
In the Philippines, a new Executive Order (EO 79) recently banned the use of mercury in small scale gold mining. Further, should the Philippines sign onto the new Minamata convention as expected, the country¡¯s commitment to reduce or eliminate mercury in the small scale mining sector will become a matter of international law. The Kalinga summit brought together stakeholders to discuss the challenges of making this transition. But as usual, the summit revealed that the issues facing small scale gold miners go well beyond the technical issue of mercury use. The new executive order also limited areas open to small scale mining (called Minahang Bayan or People¡¯s Small Scale Mining Areas), and to the dismay of many small-scale miners, it upheld the mining law that (in their view) favors large-scale mining. EO 79 also pushes for putting provincial or city mining regulatory bodies into operation, bodies that many small scale miners perceive as biased toward large scale mining interests. The summit reinforced the lesson that the problem of mercury use in small scale mining cannot be solved in isolation from the broader issues touching the legitimacy of the small scale mining sector overall.