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Benguet’s gold processing plant underutilized
THE gold-copper processing plant in Benguet province has yet to be utilized to its full potential.
Norberto Cobaldez, Department of Science and Technology assistant regional director in the Cordillera, said the supposed 24/7 operation of the processing plant remains unrealized because of the lack of raw materials to process.
“It can process 100 tons per month or more but now, it only processes 40 to 50 tons a month because there is no raw materials to be processed,” Cobaldez added of the processing plant, which shies away from using chemicals such as mercury and cyanide.
He told SunStar Baguio most small scale miners are hesitant to use the processing plant for fear their ores might get confiscated due to lack of official transfer permit from Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with the government later pressing charges against them.
Only a few small scale miners associations were granted a permit before the implementation of the Executive Order No. 79 implementing reforms in the Philippine mining sector, Cobaldez said.
The regulation requires small scale mining operations must be undertaken only within the declared “Minahang Bayan” (MB) or public mine.
Inaugurated on March 2017, the gold-copper mineral processing plant worth P25 million, located in one of the proposed MB areas in Sitio Basil, Barangay Gumatdang in Itogon, is fully operational and can process five to 15 metric tons of ore per day.
The technology, developed by the engineers of the University of the Philippines, was turned over to the Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners Inc. (BFSSMI).
From January to May this year, a total of 174,000 kilograms of ore were processed.
Gold-copper project staff Noel Imbisan said the plant has a gold recovery rate of 751.40 grams with gold purity of 14 to 16 karats. The process starts from crushing to grinding, using the artisanal sluicing method.
In the black market, 14- to 16-karat gold is sold for P1,350 per gram, while 21-karat gold goes for P1,850 to P1,900 per gram.
The Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas buys 21 karats of gold for P2,030 a gram.
Cobaldo said the pilot plant in Itogon is the first in the country to support small scale mining operations, as he encouraged small-scale miners to sell their gold to the BSP instead of the black market.
Miners, however, think twice about selling their gold to the BSP owing to a two-percent tax imposed on all sales.
BSSMFI president Lomino Kaniteng said with the high price of gold, the industry remains the steadiest economic driver in the province, as small scale mining employs 23,000 workers despite the risk of the work.
Kaniteng said Benguet still has 8 million tons of minerals like gold, silver and copper.
In a recent visit to Baguio City, Chamber of Mines executive director Ronald Recidoro said only a few minahang bayan areas nationwide have been approved.