"Tunneling for Treasure"

After ten hours of digging stubborn soil, Edwin Adigue pauses to rest his weary back.  Squatting on a pair of exhausted knees, he taps the rotting lumber just above his helmet to check for stress cracks.  Although wrinkled with age, they show no sign of giving way to the colossal mountain above him.  Adigue stops for a two-minute break.   For a few more hours, Tunnel 747 in the southern Philippine’s Kematu gold mine will give him and his crew the narrow slot they need to dig deeper into the earth’s belly. 

Searching for underground treasure in a water-saturated, vertical shaft is no easy task.  Nor is returning home at night with nothing to show for his sweat.  Unfortunately for Adigue, digging deeper has not made him any richer.  He knows that his crew expects to finish another dangerous, 12-hour day without finding so much as a speck of the precious yellow metal for which they risk their lives. 

So do about 30,000 other men and children who chip and pan all day and night inside the southern Philippines’ Kematu and Mt. Diwata gold mines.  Mt. Diwata, sometimes called the Diwalwal gold rush area, is a much larger mine located on the eastern edge of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. An estimated $1.8 billion worth of gold reserves remain untapped in the 5,000-hectare mountain where tens of thousands of small-scale miners operate, many illegally. All mines throughout this conflict-torn region produce 48.3 percent of total gold ore in the country. Little, however, is reinvested in the poverty-stricken island.  And the environmental impact from mining operations has been quite severe. The Naboc and Agusan rivers, both of which pour out of Mt. Diwata, are grossly contaminated with mercury and cyanide.

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