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March 19, 2010 Comments (2) Outdoor Blogging, Travel Photography, Visits

Butterflies in my head and the SMI Discovery Tour

“I went from this world, to purgatory, to heaven and back, and the thin line that separates these are man’s creative destruction…”

I became interested  when Bariles mentioned the word “mining”. Questions popped in my head and I fired some at Bariles to fish out details of the tour  “It’s a discovery tour nga eh.” he said. That was my cue to shut up.

Of course having been exposed to media coverage (read this) on the mining industry, who wouldn’t be interested? Somehow I couldn’t let go of  the opportunity  to answer some of these question (which Is akin to “butterflies” for me).  Questions that are better answered by first hand experience of how actual mining operation is undertaken. “Why not then? This will be my first glimpse at a real mining operation. Maybe I can seek for some of the answer myself!

So at around 8AM the next day I was picked up by a convoy of  4×4 pickup-chauffeured Sox Bloggers from Gen Santos city along TUPI National Highway. “Brand new, shinny D4D 4x4s! Sweet. SMI (Sagittarius Mining Inc.) must be big time.” I told myself and the driver. “They can afford to”  the driver replied. Noticing that I am the only passenger in that one shiny 4×4 pick-up, then SMI must be big time. Now I really have to buckle up…

When we arrived at the “competence center” for briefing and orientation, the first impression you’ll get is safety and security. “This is a fortress.” The security at any SMI property is tight. I have these phobia for security checks , name tags and IDs. I just don’t like the idea of me reduced to some ID or number or anything other than my personality. But, uh, well I’m pretty sure that if you’re in the business of mining, you gotta be serious with security and safety, don’t you? “Sir, ID please” said the lady guard..

Sox Bloggers at the SMI Competence Center after the orientation.

We’re gonna dig gold and copper, and generate revenues for our town and nation, without having to harm the people and destroy our environment”. This was the gist of their orientation, reduced in a simplistic statement. (Coffee time.)What was obvious was the big moolah that will come in both for the government and the people, if this project goes into full operation. Also, according to their data presented, mining operations will be done on an accepted, world wide standard of mining practices –scientific, safe and ecologically friendly way. Take note, these are all what the company is planning to do, since according to SMI, full operation of mining activity has yet to commence. (more coffee) But the issue is never really that simple, as we all knew. I can see nodding and “wows”, from the bloggers. Some threw nagging questions at the speakers. Others, are simply overwhelmed by the data presented. (Pwede pakape ulit?“)

What remains to be seen is this: Will they be able to mine gold and copper, safely, economically, without destroying the environment? What about the concrete plans for the site and community rehabilitation? Hard questions. But yet I’m certainly these are rather strongly relevant even at this stage of their “explorations”. (More coffee again) After the orientation, the company wants us to visit their “core farm”  and “nursery”.

(I’m not the expert on this so please understand the simplistic logic of what I understood from the tour)

The core farm houses all the samples that  the company has so far has collected from their preliminary drilling operations. It is here that they catalog, analyze and store soil samples for further study or sent elsewhere. It is here where their engineers do soil sample and earth crust study to determine its viability, its capacity to withstand mining operations and facilities and possibly, the ability to recover from it.

The SOX Bloggers with the SMI staff, engineers at the Core farm. (Photo by Arnel Joshua Lim)

When I saw their “library” of soil samples and mined materials, I was awed at the worth of data collected. “Do you share the data you have here with other lead government agencies that monitors environmental impact?” I asked one engineer. “Yes, but only the Bureau of Mines” He answered. I can only surmise (with my peanut geological and metallurgical  knowledge)  that such data will actually be very useful in monitoring ecological indicators if and only if they can be shared with appropriate agencies. I just wonder if ever the government is interested on this rather than what money will the mining industry bring in.

Bariles, with Dimple and Mam Bench, doing the rounds of the SMI nursery

The nursery came next in our tour. The nursery houses everything that the company invested on their planned environmental preservation and rehabilitation program. This is required by law to be incorporated in their mining operations. Seedlings of different trees, hardwoods and all that can possibly grow on a terrestrial habitat is there. Even indicators of an environmental health, like butterflies or insects are grown there. “Very well maintained nursery” one blogger said. “If any group or agency is planning to do a tree planting activity around the area, they can request for seedling here, all for free“-said the nursery manager. “But who monitors the seedlings you gave away? Who follows up if they were really planted or grown where they should have been planted into?” I asked. “The requesting agency or person take cares of that” he answered. I chuckled.

(Shut your blabbering mouth please Doc, me said to me. You don’t look cool with your mouth open..heheh)

Tree seedlings from SMI’s nursery for reforestation projects
The butterfly garden, where the in house culture of butterflies and insects is done to monitor some ecological healthiness indicators.

It came to me that this was the “gap” in their program. The actual reforestation and following up of the tree planting program is vaguely monitored. Personally, I would think that this way of giving out tree seedlings alone is a losing investment for the company and yes, will have a questionable impact for the environment. Yep, but I don’t claim to be a reforestation expert, nor am I an authority int he mining industry. I just have questions that continues to fuel my fear for the mining operations. Media frenzy? Maybe.

(I’m just starting to heat up.”)

Time to visit another stakeholder in this industry- the people and community that lives around the mining areas. “What will the mining industry bring in to this community? Will it impact their way of living, their environment or uplift their way of life? If there where effects of the preliminary drilling, was it assessed already, where they addressed or acted upon?” These were the questions those  freaky curves and roads brought in on our way to the community.

The direct stakeholders in this projects, the tribe leader (top) with his community, the ladies (middle picture) and the young ones (below)

Passing through dangerous curves and roads in the mountains, we arrived at far flung B’laan (not T’boli as I wrote earlier, thanks Ariel!) community in Columbio. The B’laans of Salnaong, is one unique B’laan tribe thriving  in proximity to SMI mining sites . Because of their unique socio-economic and cultural pattern, an impact assessment study on the effects of mining on their lives and community will very make or break the mining industry.

Bloggers post for a picture with the local B’laan tribe

Well, that was what I was hoping for. It seems to me however, that the community have some environmentally disastrous practices on its own that needs to be addressed first before the mining industry can even come in. The rampant slash and burn practices in the highlands is definitely there. Our group can see a portion of the mountainside ablaze with fire itself! ( “Tubig!!)

“Hell on earth” I was referring to…

It’s not easy to dissuade the locals to stop this practice especially that their source of income and the food that they eat comes from these “converted” cropland. Educating the community on these aspects and providing them with other safe, ecologically friendly sources of living may be well needed  before any mining operation can come in. Again, mining should really think twice before going in into these areas. They might just be adding an insult to injury, and get credit for the destruction that has been already there. Or add one. Will it all be worth the destruction??? (Shut up me and enjoy the cultural immersion!)

The stake holders in the mining industry. So are we ready for it?(Photo by Arnel Joshua Lim)

So what was then that this “SMI Discovery Tour” has taught me? Will I change my views regarding the mining industry?A big maybe. But I’ve got more questions now than ever. I can see how the company is fighting an uphill battle of a balanced ecologically friendly yet profitable mining activity. An oxymoron to many of us but nothing can be solved by just sitting alone on our tables and rambling about what he haven’t seen first hand.  We have to be aggressive and to seek answers for our own questions. I mean seriously, cut the table ranting and do something!

On the lighter side, I had so much fun on the outdoor trip. Not to mention I gulped 3 cups of coffee, a sandwich, a hamburger, a pack of juice, one heavy lunch, a buko full halo-halo and making friends with some 15 plus more people and one enemy-kaingin.  Despite the scorching heat and amidst beauty (the who??), I probably would enjoy another trip to their “farm”. The SMI staff (Mam Bench, Janice, Khillen, Elaiza), who  took care of treating us like kings and queens (more queens I think). Thanks for trying to answer many of my  questions. I certainly will ask the speakers to fine tune their talks to their audiences, as some might be less technically adept or other still, incessantly prodding (me). But they all talk very professional!

The ladies and the gentleman…t’was fun!(Photo by Arnel Joshua Lim)

Of course, this activity wouldn’t have been as fun as enlightening as it was without the “bigtime” Bariles, Orman and the dynamic SOX BLOGGERS. I hope we get more of these outdoor fun activities soon!!!

Me taking some aimless shoots but enjoying it!(Photo by Arnel Joshua Lim)

Here’s the SOX Bloggers I went with to the SMI Discovery Tour and their blog posts about it! Enjoy! (Sox Bloggers eave a link in the comment if you wish to be included here…)
Rain Cindy
Jinky Borela (3-part series)

2 Responses to Butterflies in my head and the SMI Discovery Tour

  1. Bonedoc says:

    @Jinky, technical?! Uh, my…but thanks for reading my post!

  2. jinky says:

    nice technically written post, doc!

    tnx for the link, too!