Canatuan Mine Tour

One of our generous sponsors of this year's Mindanao Bloggers Summit is one of the top mining companies who are operating here in Mindanao. TVI Resource Development Phil Inc. is a company who does large-scale mining at Zamboanga del Norte, specifically at the Sitio Canatuan, Brgy. Tabayo, at the municipality of Siocon. The day before the summit, me and some Mindanao bloggers were fortunate to be invited in a tour up north to personally see and understand how the mining industry works. It was a memorable day worth spending.

Trip to Canatuan with the Mindanao bloggers

After almost 4 hours of travel by land, we reached the mining site to be welcomed by the beautiful mountainscapes of Canatuan. Honestly, I was expecting that i will see deforested mountains and dirty muddy road as what i see in TV. But it was green as it could be. Mr. Ernie Rojo, who works for TVI as a liaison officer was the one who was very kind to be with us during the whole day tour. As we crossed several bridges along the road, he said that years ago, there were no bridges there and it would take us a habal-habal, a big motorcycle, to cross the river. The company helped the community to pave the roads and construct the bridges for a safer travel.

Staff house and cafeteria

As we entered into the headquarters of TVI, we were amazed by the facilities that they have. There was a cafeteria with billiard pools and gym facilities on one side. Outside, they have a court where they can play sports. There are also beautiful lodges that houses the staff. We went up to the dining area which looks like a cafe with interior design and wifi access. Unfortunately, the signal was low that time so were not able to update our facebook status. Anyways, we headed in a separate dining area which has a projector and screen and long tables for conferences or functions. In the backdrop we can overlook the forest in the distance. Then, we had snacks. We had yummy biko, puto and dinuguan.

During the orientation

After the break, we started with the orientation. We had a little GTKY and we met the heads of the departments of TVI. From the social development management program to the safety and security department, each of them explained how their department operates and gave us information about the company. They showed a 20-minute documentary of TVI which showed us what, where and how the company operates. What really struck me most about the presentation is how the company helped the people of Canatuan not only in the construction of roads and bridges but the entire community as well. They built schools and clinics and provided everything that will help the indigents and dwellers of the community. Most of them are people coming from the tribe of Subanon. They are river people who dominated Zamboanga del Norte for centuries. However, before TVI came sad things happen to the Subanons.

The Subanons were once workers for small-scale mining which is basically what we think of mining. The children were working in underground caves to dig for minerals without proper protection. The caves were prone to hazard because they don't have facilities and people like engineers and doctors. And to top it all, they have small wages for a job that will risk their lives. Of course there is always an environmental issue attached to mining. When TVI came, almost everyone in the community disagreed about the idea of big-scale mining except for one. He is no other than the barangay captain who believed in mining. However, with his persistence, the community soon accepted the offer of TVI.

Finally, the community permitted TVI to operate in certain percentages of their ancestral land. The operations started in 2004 and began to extract gold and silver and ended in 2008. After that, they started copper and zinc production. Now, 10% of all the income goes back to the community. TVI provided important developments in the community. First they provided education to high school and elementary students producing more graduates. They even have computers with internet access unlike some public schools here in the city. With beautiful classrooms, more books, and functional facilites, the children of Canatuan who once worked for small-scale mining now has a conducive place to learn.

More infrastructure were also developed like the bridge construction and road graveling. They provided electricity to homes and now people could enjoy technology. Water systems had also been provided proving potable water to hundreds of homes. Clinics were also made to attend to their needs. Health and sanitation is a priority for the community. And finally, livelihood were also given to the locals so they can be productive during and even after the operation of TVI in their place. All the facilities of TVI will be donated to the community afterward. They dictate what they can do with their money so they provided ideas on how to use or invest it by giving livelihood programs to sustain their living for years to come. The company also gave jobs to the people. All of these were provided within a couple of years, something that a local government from a rural area cannot do. TVI served as a surrogate government of the people from Canatuan.

We first headed to the village where the subanons lived. We went inside a small hut where the subanons are ready to welcome us. There are agongs and a set of kulintang and the locals in their subanon attire. They performed a welcoming dance for guests with the accompaniment of the instruments. They danced one by one alternating male and female dancers. After one male dancer finished his dance, another female (should not be a relative) should make "balos" or answer to his dance, and vice versa. Females dance in a slower beat while male dance in another type of faster beat. Their dance is characterized by stomping of feet, slow movements of the body and swaying of arms like a bird. They also do a simple gesture before they dance by placing the left hand in their chest and the right hand touching their head then their chest while reciting a short prayer. The young ones started the dance and i was really stunned on how the children did the dance. I can really see in their eyes the dedication for their culture and it makes me happy to see that the elders are making efforts to instill the traditions and customs of their culture to the next generation despite of the influence of the modern world. It was a humbling experience to be welcomed by the community first hand. I was also asked to give a brief speech to the elders in behalf of the Mindanao Bloggers, using my multilingual skills (quite challenging!). After that, we visited a site where vegetables are grown in the steep mountain areas wherein the Subanons are taught how to grow crops. There are varieties of vegetables and i can literally make a salad if i had a bowl and condiments with me. After that, we headed back to the staff house to take our lunch.

The Subanon welcomed us with their traditional dance

The mindano bloggers at the subanon village nursery site

Lunch time at the very modern dining hall

We also had the chance to visit the mining site where the minerals were excavated. As we were traveling from the staff house to the site, we saw the portions of mountain that were once mined. They planted seedlings of rubber trees that will soon grow and be one of the income-generating sources of the community. Yes, mining will cut down forests but with responsible mining, they are sacrificing a portion of their land but not leaving it deforested afterward. They make sure that the mountain will be back in shape though it may take years of reforestation. This is responsible mining that TVI advocates.

The open pit where the extraction is currently operating

At the view deck with the head engineer

We reached the open pit where there is a huge area of land with layers of colored soil. Huge tractors excavate the land with rich minerals. We stopped at a mountain top where we can see the entire pit. It was such a nice view. They explained the different types of rock in that area and the one that really caught our interest is the dark red slabs which accordingly contains the gold deposits. The open pit is facing a mountain where we can see small houses. They were the people who once lived in the mining site and were relocated to the area when operations started. I bet they have a better home there than before. Unfortunately, the weather started to become bitter and heavy rained poured. The mountains were covered in fog in a matter of minutes and so we have to go back before we get stranded. We were supposed to visit another mountain top which has a better view of the open pit and a dam where the deposits of their first operations can be found.

At the warehouse where the final product is stored.

We headed to the area where the minerals were processed. We went into a warehouse where there are tonnes of fine copper extracts. Their metallurgist explained the process of extracting the ores. Since it was raining hard, we went to the conference room and had an open forum with the heads of TVI. We had a chance to clarify and ask questions about the company. We had a lot of discussions about the company's relationship with the community. They were expecting us to ask how the minerals are processed but i think as a blogger what I really care about is the community and humanity. It the good of the people and environment that really matters. What i really liked about this company is its transparency. It is the people's land that they are using so they really should be responsible to be transparent with whatever they do with it. TVI is very open to everyone who would like to visit their site and to everyone who would like to ask questions about them. I just hope that many people are open to hear their side of the story. We all have misconceptions about mining and we often generalize this idea to everyone in the mining industry. Let's be open to responsible mining!

Open forum with the heads of TVI

It's late in the afternoon and we have to go back to the city. We have to take another 4 hours of travel and get set for the bloggers summit for the next day. As we travel back to Zamboanga, we bring all the experience and insights that we gained from the tour. My head is outside the window of the van. I can feel the cool breeze in my face as i appreciate the tree canopies floating in sea of fog.

Photo ops before leaving :)

Off to home. Felt like i was in Baguio for a moment..


For more photos of the tour, visit the facebook page of Mindano Bloggers Summit 2010 here.

To learn more about TVI Resource Development Phils Inc., visit their official website here. They are very open to all organizations who wants to visit the site. Just contact them so they can make the necessary preparations. You will surely have a great time there.
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