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Commentary

Romancing the gold

Mining, more precisely gold mining: Is it bane or boon for the country? Should it be stopped, seeing as how it ruins our farmlands as claimed by environmentalists, or should it be vigorously pursued given the fact that it’s a potent economic engine that can boost national progress?

The question of whether gold mining is a beneficial and desirable enterprise was settled eons ago. The long corridors of history are littered with proof of man’s love affair with gold and his determined efforts to obtain the precious metal through means fair or foul, through hard work and use of tools, or through violence, subterfuge and bloody wars.

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Some of the oldest known gold artifacts were found in an ancient graveyard in Bulgaria. The graves were built between 4700 and 4200 BC, indicating that gold mining was already a pursued activity 7,000 years ago.

The Romans were among the first people to covet gold in a big and organized way. Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in the first century A.D. to set up a gold mine in West Wales. In the medieval era in Europe, gold mining was one of the principal sources of funds that propped up the royalty and aristocracy. Explorers in the 14th century until the 18th century braved the long and arduous sea voyages, the perils of the jungles, and the axes and arrows of hostile natives (of the land they conquered) to get their hands on gold.

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The exploits of the legendary conquistadores, the Forty-Niners, the adventurers in numerous gold rushes in history, not to forget the swarm of gold seekers at our own Mount Diwalwal, are incontestable proof of how madly in love man is with gold and how any attempt to stymie his romancing the yellow treasure is simply an exercise in futility.

There’s an ongoing debate on precisely the issue: Is mining bane or boon for the country? Should it be treated like an unwanted relative or fawned over like a rich, aging, unmarried uncle?

Mining is key to our achieving national prosperity, argue mining stakeholders. Mining pollutes the environment and further marginalizes our indigenous peoples, claim nature guardians and social activists. These are two well-meaning groups arguing from two divergent perspectives. Can their views be reconciled? They can if we let reason, not emotion, prevail.

In many controversies the uninvolved usually show the path to a happy resolution of the contending parties’ clashing opinions. In the mining debate I tap the common tao, the ordinary citizen, as the uninvolved party. The common tao has neither material interests to promote in mining nor a social and political agenda to push in relation to it. Whenever opportunities arise I pose to him this proposition: There are people who want to stop other people from mining because they say mining harms the environment and hurts the lives of indigenous peoples. Agree or disagree?

“Disagree,” say the common tao—so far my barber, my suki fruit vendor, my newspaper delivery man, my driver, and several office rank-and-file.

“Why stop mining? Of what use is gold buried under the earth? Dig it out so we can make use of it.”

I think the idea of the common tao is, if I may express it more succinctly: Let us not throw away the baby with the bath water. Solve the problems that mining is supposed to create, but thinking of killing an industry that adds to national wealth is just plain juvenile.

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Let mining live.

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Mart del Rosario ([email protected]) is a retired advertising-PR consultant.

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