SPECIAL REPORT: The economics of plantas in Nabunturan and where the town’s gold is sold

JAN 6-12, 2011

By Cha Monforte

Located near to Reserba, Barangay Mainit, Nabunturan and delineated by theManatRiver, the mineral processing zone seems to have its covert and lively presence having some 30 plantas of varying production tonnages.

The plantas are actually the carbon-in-pulp cynidation plants, locally fabricated plants that were endogenously cocooned out and made effective during the over two decades of small scale mining development in Compostela Valley Province.

 Found mostly in Mainit mineral processing zone are 15-ton and 20-ton plantas. There are only few 25-ton, 30-ton and 40-ton plantas.

Each planta has its set of crushers or ballmills which would mill and pulverize into sands the half bags of raw gold ores, the locals called as puyong, from tunnels somewhere, before the sands are poured down to the plantas for carbon-in-pulp cyanidation processing.

Allan Bollifer, plant manager of Kilovolt gold processing plant, said in an interview that at the average the 15-ton planta and the 20-ton planta have capacity to load 280 and 400 puyongs, respectively.

For the 15-ton planta, in a six-day gold production processing cycle, the half bags of ores are first milled for three days, after which the sands are loaded to the plantas for 72 hours of processing. The plant’s output is “carbonized gold” or the gold captured by the carbon. The “carbonized gold” then undergoes the “firing” or it, lying on kalans (ceramics), is blown over by fire so that when the carbon disappeared what remains is the unrefined gold.

“For that, we charge P3,000 per ton or P45,000 for the 15 tons, besides that the customers pay the cost of chemicals, cyanide and carbon,” Bollifer said.

Plantas are heavy power consumers. Kilovolt plant, for one, averages to pay Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative P75,000 monthly.

Plantas are processing gold ores if possible on cash basis. “But if the miners ask for credit, the planta gets the first priority in the order of payment or refund of overall expenses in tunneling after the gold is sold and before the corpo (group of miners consisting of capitalist and manual laborers) have their net shares,” Bollifer said.

“We would not also process if they have no assay rating of their gold ores. The assay rating from known assay laboratories is needed to determine if they could pay us. A rating of 5 percent gold content of 150 grams of gold ores is considered to be only good to pay for the funds invested by the tunnel financier, and none for the manual corpo members. It can pay us though. A rating of 10 to 12 percent is at least good enough that corpo laborers can share a modest income,” Bollifer added. 

In his estimate, their planta has already processed gold ores worth not less than P50 million since they started February 2010

 “We don’t process graba (ores from tunnels) that turned out to be pughok (no gold content). So we custom mill only those which have good assay rating to be sure that they (miners) can pay us,” said Allan Bollifer, plant manager of Kilovolt gold processing plant located in Mainit mineral processing zone, home of at least 30 plantas of varying tonnages.

Other sources said that some of the plantas are owned by Korean and Japanese nationals and businessmen from as far asDavaoCity.

But elsewhere in the province, being a mineralized region, plantas have been put up. Sources said there said there are individual plantas in the nearby barangays of Kao, Tagnocon and up there in Masaraline barangays in Mawab-Maco-Mabini-Pantukan territories, in barangays going to Maragusan as well as in other towns like Maragusan which has experienced a gold rush with the opening of Pamintaran mining site. NewBataanis also known to have good mining sites in Barangay Camanlangan and nearby villages and thus is also hosting plantas.

“Oresupplies from Pamintaran are no longer plenty, but more ore supplies from Tagnocon, Bugac of Mainit, Log Cabin and Kabinuangan of Bukal keep on coming. Pag awop sa Pamintaran, mi-boom na pod ang Bangkal sa Tagnocon (when Pamintaran goes bust, Bangkal goes into boom),” Bollifer said in vernacular.

He said that their planta is required of a dampakans, dug outs into where wastewater from the planta exits and is trapped to be left open under sun exposure. He said that with it the wastewater from the plantas could not drain into the river.

At press time, he said that prices of unrefined gold fetch to P1,400 to P1,500 per gramo in local miners’ lingo, which is actually 1 milligram of gold, “depende sa kilatis (depending on the goldsmith’s quality)”. If refined, gold prices can go as high as P1,900 to P1,950 per gramo.

All roads of Nabunturan-processed gold would seem to lead to one direction where the established gold buyers are-TagumCity. Among the gold buyers in  the city, sources said, are Golden Palace Hotel, Eagle’s View Hotel, Grandcop, RB, BL, Naro, Simbajon, Milay, Doreng’s, Hero pawnshop, and a diesel station near the terminal.

In time of “sharing” tunnel financiers and manual corpo members- mostly the abanteros would accompany their gold to Tagum City and wait for the cash to be shared by them after the deductions of all expenses during the production cycle, with usually the financiers getting two (or more) shares after the refund of his financing (“back finance” as they say) and with each of the corpo members getting one equal share.

In reported sharings, it is a penny if corpo members get only P50,000 each for the three to four months of mining cycle. But various reports said that there have been many sharings where each corpo member gets a bonanza at least P100,000 equal share, or at times P300,000 equal share for each lucky corpo member. (cha monforte)

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