Cultures of Informal Mining in the Philippines

Informal mining in the Philippines

Over three days in July, the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) held a free online conference, Kyoto 2020, on the theme of Commons, Post-Development and Degrowth in Asia, and one of the presenters was CEI member Pryor Placino.

Placino presented in the session on Extractivism and his paper based on his PhD research and entitled ‘Possibilities for commoning in a contested landscape: informal aggregate mining in the Philippines’ is available online.

Placino explains “I am interested in what lies behind the creation of mundane building materials such as concrete, and especially what goes on in the informal quarries in which aggregate is dug, crushed and sieved by self-employed miners working under precarious conditions.”

“The intention is not to romanticise these self-employed miners’ livelihood strategies but to understand what shapes their practices and what role these underlying factors might play in future livelihood strategies, especially when the use of concrete as a building material diminishes.”

Through research conducted in a mining village to the north-east of Manila, Placino finds that there are strongly-developed cultural norms shaping the miners’ diverse economic practices.

As one example Placino tells the story of an arrangement between a younger informal miner who has access to part of the quarry and allows an older 77-year old woman to carry-out mining on this portion of the quarry.

The older woman cannot get a job in the nearby village and without the mining work she would be reliant on handouts from her neighbours, given ‘out of pity’ as the older woman puts it; whereas this work arrangement, based on the cultural norm of damayan or giving sympathy and practical aid, enables the older woman to maintain her dignity.

Other culturally-inflected economic practices include transactions that are shaped by norms of reciprocity, such as abuloy a form of financial aid and pakimkim a form of gift-giving during a wedding or christening.

Alongside these social practices, the informal miners also exercise environmental care including for the adjacent aquifer.

Looking to a future in which concrete is no longer ubiquitous, Placino proposes that these social and ecological caring practices might offer new ways of livelihood making, through initiatives such as environmental repair or co-making of building materials.

Placino’s research features in a chapter on informal mining labour in The Handbook of Diverse Economies and he was recently awarded a COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund by the journal Geoforum which offered 4 stipends of 2,500 euros to support the livelihoods of PhD students or early career scholars in vulnerable positions, particularly those based in low-income societies, compromised by the crisis.

Jenny Cameron