But after a week trapped underground by flash flooding - their attempts to swim to safety stymied by high, fast-moving water - six of them have been pulled to safety. The fate of eight others remained uncertain Tuesday.
"All of us are so happy we made it out alive," said 22-year-old Antonio Pagulayan, speaking to The Associated Press by phone from a hospital bed as he and two other survivors, intravenous drips in their arms, chewed betel nuts while celebrating their rescue with relatives.
Hope for survivors had diminished with each passing day since the men entered the gold mine in the mountain township of Itogon during a typhoon Sept. 22 that rapidly flooded the tunnels. The bodies of two miners were retrieved Sept. 25.
The tunnels, dug decades ago, were abandoned in the 1990s by a gold mining company which had posted guards to prevent accidents. The trapped miners - working on their own with no permit - dug a narrow passageway to gain access to the tunnels, according to George Baywong, a Mines and Geosciences Bureau officer.
Small-scale, amateur mining is not new in this mineral-rich country and accidents occur frequently - even in licensed mines - due to poor enforcement of safety regulations.
Three survivors were brought out Monday and three others early Tuesday. They were weak and ravenous but appeared to be in generally good health.
"This is some sort of a miracle," Neoman de la Cruz, another Mines and Geosciences officer, told the AP.
Divers were trying to reach two other men seen in the shaft, but it was not clear if they were alive, Baywong said. He said six others remained missing.
Two rescued miners survived by standing on a ledge in a tunnel. Four others were found in separate elevated portions of the shaft. The men said they drank rainwater collected in plastic containers.
Survivor Gerry Manyugda, 23, said he gnawed on and swallowed a small piece of his shirt just to have something in his stomach, then stopped when he started feeling sick.
The men left the mine without any gold. But they said they would return to the mines - it is the only work they know.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Oliver Teves and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.