Coal miner’s life

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Friday, March 7, 2014

THE village of Biasong in Barangay Bonbon sits on the floor of a valley near the Bonbon river almost in the middle of Cebu City’s hinterlands. People from surrounding communities would go there twice a week to sell or buy farm produce during the market day or “tabo.”

Farmers and traders would haggle for the prices of tomatoes, baguio beans, squash, etc. in a vacant lot surrounded with stores and eateries made of bamboo and wood, with nipa or cogon roofing. The lot has the usual basketball court where “dayon-dayon” volleyball could also be played. This is the farthest passenger/cargo jeepneys could reach from the urban area.

The Bonbon river winds downstream to Barangay Buot-Taup, still in Cebu City, and farther down to Barangay Campo 4 in Talisay (now a city) where it links up with the mighty Mananga river. In the old days, rickety jeepneys used the Bonbon-Barangay Tabunok (Talisay) route, crisscrossing the riverbank before going up to the Campo 4 road near an old bailey bridge. From there they would proceed to Barangay Jaclupan and on to Tabunok.


I got familiar with that route in the ‘80s, traversing it on foot or riding a passenger/cargo jeepney either at night or by day. The first time I was there, the sight of mined coal and drift mine adits dotting the area jolted me . They were aberrations in a primarily countryside setting.

I was reminded of this following the recent collapse of a coal mine pit in Barangay Dungga, Danao City that killed a miner and injured three others. Mining operations in Danao City were obviously bigger and the tunnels wider because the miners used jackhammers instead of pick axes like what I saw in Cebu City’s interior in the ‘80s. But the same kind of danger lurked.

The working condition in coal mines in Cebu has always been bad, whether in the past or currently. The profit motive has ensured the situation would improve only a wee bit.

Drift mine tunnels are dug deep into the mountain slope following the vein of the ore, with the weight of the underground rocks and soil pushed away by often weak wooden supports. In “camote” type mining, the shafts become lower and narrower the deeper the tunnel goes. There, the danger of pits collapsing is compunded by the difficult working condition.

Miners I talked with were aware of the dangers that lurked and the difficult working condition inside the the mine pits but gambled their lives anyway for a pittance they called “wage.”

The physical toll was such that miners suffered disabilities after years of working in the mines. This was because they acted like contortionists while they peeled away embedded coal in narrow tunnels using their pick axes. Worse, the shafts were always filled with water.

Coal mining in Dungga is mechanized, and that apparently includes moving mined coal outside of the pits. That wasn’t usually so in the old days. Boxes filled with coal were shoved, pushed and dragged outside where their contents were later loaded into trucks.

In the Cebuano short story that I wrote titled “Ang mga Langgam-Langgam,” one of the protagonists was a young muscled woman who was forced to work in the mine pits because of the long drought that dried up their farm. The physical strength that she acquired allowed her to hit back at her abusive father, killing him.

In the Dungga incident, officials of Danao City and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) are going through the motions of finding out if the firm involved followed safe mining practices. They are also looking into the working condition of the miners in the area.

But I am already jaded and feel that the incident will once more be forgotten in the coming months.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 07, 2014.


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