Mining, a legacy
This essay is the Second Place Winner in the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. The author, 27, transferred to Rio Tuba in southern Palawan province. She was an academic scholar of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. (RTNMC) from elementary until college at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. She passed the nursing licensure exams in 2006 and has been working as a nurse at the Rio Tuba Nickel Foundation, Inc. Hospital since 2007. She is married to another RTNMC employee and has 2 daughters ages 5 and 2. Her story looks back to the time when her family moved to Rio Tuba after her father was employed as a truck driver, while her mother was a high school teacher.
“Ma’am, I am studying hard because I like to go up the stage and receive a medal.”
These were the words of Jonalyn when I asked her what she thinks is the value of education. She is just in her second grade, and one of my ten students. I can’t help but smile. I could see myself in Jonalyn – almost 18 years ago…
“’Tay, (father) why do we need to move to Rio Tuba? Is that far, 'Tay? How could this happen? I have no friends there, and I will leave all my friends here.” My father could not answer my questions. He was so busy packing all our things.
My parents are from Rizal, Palawan. I was born, learned to walk, and started to study in Rizal. All my cousins, classmates, and friends are also from Rizal. I was so sad that we needed to move our home. “Anak (child), work is better in Rio Tuba; the chances that you could study until college are higher there. Life is difficult here. Everything depends on your father’s income. While there, I could give you a better future.”
I was only 8 years old back then. My only interest was to play in the sand and dip in the sea. I could not fully understand, what indeed was a bright future?
In 1994, when I was 9 years old, we arrived in Rio Tuba. Oh, the trucks are so huge here! My father would drive one of those trucks, they say. I still could not fully understand back then, but I kept hearing RTN… they say my father will work at RTN.
When the classes opened in June, I also started to go to my new school – the Leonides S. Virata Memorial School. The school is lovely. There were many books in the library and a lot of computers! They say we would be taught how to use a computer. Our chairs and black boards were also neat.
We have a complete set of books. I was really motivated to study. Every time I tell Nanay (mother) about my experiences during the first week of classes, she would always say, “God loves us, Anak. He brought us here. We should give thanks to RTN. The company is very good. There are many like us whom they are helping.
As days pass, I gradually understood and wholeheartedly started to embrace our new world. I realized that RTN is a mining company – Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Company. I learn that they extract the nickel underneath the land which in turn is bought by Japan. Oh, so that was the reason Tatay drives a big truck.
I always thought back then, RTN is extremely rich. They let us live in houses for free, without any electricity and water bills to pay. The schools are beautiful, our medicines are free. We could stay in the hospital every time we get sick without any costs. There is also a children’s park near our house. “Nay, RTN must be very rich, right?” My mother would always say, “Anak, the company is very kind.”
Sometimes, when my parents listen to the radio, we would hear several arguments – and the topic is about the mining industry. Critics would say that mining destroys the environment, livelihood, and even health. But I did not believe them right away. My father would often explain to me that RTN is a responsible company. It had been operating for years, and when we came here, the place was beautiful with healthy and happy people – they were not at all shattered by mining. One more thing, like my Nanay said, the company is very dependable. I think they will not do anything that will harm anyone.
One day, our school held a tree planting activity. We were toured around the mine site. I saw plenty of trucks and imagined which of those was being driven by my father. We got off the mined-out area where my classmates and I were asked to plant trees. The company already prepared everything; they even have a plant nursery. With utmost care, I covered with soil the roots of those I planted. I labelled these with my name as I whispered a prayer for the trees to grow and bloom fast, trees that our tiny hands have planted – for the mined environment.
Now, I understand. Some trees need to be felled in the course of mining. Mining gives us bountiful blessings; blessings that we only enjoy here. In return, we who grow up in the mines do many things to give back to our Mother Earth our gratitude for the minerals given us, and planting trees is just one of them. I throw my garbage in the right bin; I also save my pencils and paper, as Nanay said, those come from the trees. I help in planting flowers at home and in school. I asked kids that sling birds and gather bird nests to stop. I didn’t realize I can do many things.
Days passed so swiftly. My sibling is growing. I gained many friends. We loved to get drenched in the rain, climb guava trees, get mangoes, and munch sarisas. During school holidays, we chased grasshoppers and dragonflies. Sometimes, we competed who among us will see the most number of crabs coming out of their mud holes. My childhood days were spent with so much fun. All these I experienced in Rio Tuba. Natural resources truly abound in Rio Tuba -- in Rio Tuba, where there is a company that does mining.
I grew up feeling contented with our quiet and simple life. Whenever there was an opportunity, we visited Rizal where my grandparents live. I missed them when we were away, but I always thought that our having to be away from them was also for them. In Rio Tuba, Tatay received enough compensation; he can send part of what he earned to my grandfather. Tatay was able to provide for our needs, but above all, my siblings and I were able to study well.
On occasions, Tatay would take us to Ibelnan, a river by the mountain. Ibelnan is my favorite place. It has cottages and slides. I am proud of Ibelnan because it is near the mine site. So, who said RTN is destroying the mountain? I was 16 years old then. We had been residents of Rio Tuba for 7 years; and until then, it is still cool to bathe in the waters of Ibelnan.
Time runs fast – I just learned that I would be one of those that will be given a college scholarship by the company. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. Tatay was overjoyed. His persistence and sacrifices were starting to bear fruit. I would soon step into college. My high school graduation was then approaching; was I certain of the course I had chosen to take in college?
On the day of my graduation, Tatay talked to me, “Child, congratulations on your success! You know, you are like the nickel that we mine. Nickel is found under the ground, not visible from the surface. You need to extract and process it with utmost care so it would have value. That nickel is the key to our development, our success. Like you, your mother and I helped each other so you will grow properly. We are here to guide you so you can develop your skills and talents. We take care of you because you are important to us. Like the nickel, I pray that you will be a key to our country’s success and progress. You and your generation are the heirs of good deeds. I hope you will not forget what we taught and that you also pass this wisdom to the succeeding generation. Nickel has been has given us good fortune; it has tremendously helped us.”
“My child, may you be a nickel to others… Keep your feet on the ground, but be valuable to others, especially to those who are in need.”
My father was right. I also made the right decision. I chose a course in Education – I would like to become a teacher. I will mine students. I will mold and develop them so they would become valuable and upright hope of our land.
“Ma’am, you are smiling beautifully.”
I was surprised by the call of Jonalyn. It always feels good to reminisce the past. It has been 18 years since I first stepped on this red soil – the soil that brought me to where I am now. I am now 27 years old, a teacher of the Palaw’an indigenous communities under the Indigenous Learning System, serving them on behalf of the company that paved the way for achieving my dreams. I chose this kind of work. They need me more. I need to explain and show to them that the company is here to help them improve their lives, and have a better future. We are not here to destroy or change whatever they have now.
Thank you to RTNMC. Thank you for the legacy of the mine. Because of mining, I became a teacher. With the help of mining, I will have so much to bequeath to the next generation – the generation that will possibly mine in the future, that will mine and will leave a legacy. I would like to leave with them a fair and broad perspective, humble nature, and responsible character. Jonalyn left home filled with hope. As I watch her tread the rice paddies, my heart felt a tinge. I sighed with a prayer, hoping that like me, the day will come for Jonalyn… that day when she will realize the true meaning of her bright future. - Rappler.com
The "Faces of Mining short story writing writing competition" received 105 entries from employees, their family members, and the residents in host communities of Chamber of Mines' member firms. Amid negative perception against mining as a mere resource-extractive activity, this contest was launched in July to show the real-life, human interest stories of individuals who have personally experienced how mining touched their lives through the years.
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