My love affair with mining
This essay is a finalist in the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. The author has spent more than two decades working in 3 different mining companies.
It was not at all love at first sight. It was love that grew and developed with the passing of time, nurtured by a reciprocating relationship. I lingered around, and perhaps will stay forever.
That was, and is still, my relationship with mining… likened to a love affair! My love affair with mining started two decades ago when I was a young professional and just on my second year of work life. My first full exposure to a mining community - particularly at Philex Mining Corporation, a large-scale copper mining company, in Tuba, Benguet, was just more than a year after the 1990 killer quake that hit Northern Luzon.
People who experienced that quake would still remember how Baguio, Benguet, and nearby provinces looked like then. The road to Philex at that time via Philex-Baguio jeeps - the only public transport to the area up to now - was long, winding and dusty. That is why I didn’t fall in love with it initially. It seemed so remote, so confined.
I finished BS Psychology from Saint Louis University, from where I learned that Philex was in need of a Psychometrician at its Personnel Department. So there I went, accompanied by my boyfriend then, who is my husband now, and who was a “mining boy” himself, having grown at Balatoc Mines and whose parents worked with Benguet Corporation, also one of the largest and longest mining companies, not only in the Cordilleras but in the entire Philippines at the time.
After a seemingly never-ending travel, I reached Philex Mines… in pursuit of a job after quitting as Guidance Counselor at a school in Baguio. I simply wanted to try the industrial field of my profession - any industry would do. I wasn’t particular then but I actually chose among three “suitors” – a beverage company (food industry), a women’s foundation (non-governmental organization), and mining. I couldn’t actually tell what’s with mining then. But perhaps, by course of fate, I ended up into this industry… and got stuck with it!
What’s with mining that got me stuck here? I’m not fond of jewelries - not silver, not gold. Nor am I fond of stones, rocks, and minerals. After all, I am neither a geologist nor a mining engineer. But there is something unique and peculiar about mining, about the industry - some things that you would love and some things that you would hate.
The first thing I liked about it – the sense of belongingness. When you worked in a mine, at least in the Philippines, you automatically become part of a larger family, of a community. Mines are a company and a community in one. It is a closed-knit community that, in the passing of time, one would realize that everyone is somehow “connected” or has become related with each other. One becomes the ninong/ninang of a subordinate, a kumpare/kumare of a co-worker, or later on, an in-law of a neighbor in the mine camp. It is this “connectivity” that brings fellow employees closer with each other. And it is this “connectivity” that makes them cohesive in caring for the mining company they work with.
In my 15 years with Philex Mining, I have worked in its Personnel/Human Resource/Training Departments in various capacities. And in my work, you get to talk to and listen to employees - everyday, as in every working day. You hear good stories and not-so-good stories. But with that, I got a practically good glimpse of how life in a mine is. Unfortunately, when I joined Philex, it was already the start of the decline of the industry primarily caused by low metal prices. I have not really experienced Philex’ glorious days, where employees would queue, I was told, for a 14th to 18th month pay! But even as I was with Philex at the time it started reducing manpower (from more than 5,000 employees when I joined in 1992 to more than 2,000 when I left in 2007) and was employing cost-reduction measures (at least, the worst that I experienced was the mandatory 5-2 work schedule to cut on labor cost), I stayed with it for one and a half decade. Why? I realized I loved it after all!
I love its simple way of life - waking up in the morning, cooking breakfast for the family, children attending classes at a nearby school built and maintained by the company, going to work at 7:00 am, coming home for lunch, and working back until around 4 or 5 pm. While city employees are still queuing at the MRT, bus, or jeepney stations to go home after a tiring day’s work, more often than not, mine workers are already relaxing, watching the news or their favorite telenovelas. No hustles and bustles of a city life - which some might have found boring. But we do have the weekends, holidays, and annual leaves where employees can have some respite from a daily mine life! And best of all, there are community and company activities geared towards making mine life non-monotonous and routinary.
I also fell in love with the nature that is inherent in a mining community. I fell in love with the mountains around, which always made me feel relaxed as I walk to and from the office to our company-provided quarters. I love the smell of earth when I go underground. (So who says the underground is dangerous? A female like me have gone underground countless times and I never felt unsafe or nervous that the rocks would just fall or a toxic gas would be emitted!) I just fell in love with the mountains that when we settled in Baguio after leaving Philex, we chose a subdivision with mountains’ view. It was actually facing Mount Sto. Tomas which still somehow reminds us of the mines. For me, mountains are synonymous with mining.
I am not really a music lover and can’t even sing a tune. But if there are two songs I know by heart, and which I have been singing as lullabies to my daughters (perhaps, to their dismay and disgust!), they are the Philex PEP Song and the Apex Hymn.
The Philex PEP Song (PEP stands for “people, events and places”) was composed by Dr. Arturo Gaerlan, a long-time Philex dentist. It has become the 2nd national anthem for all Philexians - employees, dependents and residents alike. For 15 years that I have been hearing it in company occasions and in the weekly flag ceremony every Monday, I usually had goose bumps as I listen to the lyrics of the song. Who wouldn’t, when one who has fallen in love with the company and community which has become her second home.
“Up, beyond those mining lines
Rests the sprawling Philex Mines
Where the climate is truly fine
The rushing of winds through the pines.
There on crimson leaves it blows.
While through our fields the copper flows,
With precious gold and treasured silver,
Philex becomes a nation-builder.
Seraphic clouds, adorn tropic skies
Of classic beauty to miners’ eyes
The emblem of hope is everywhere
Of which in Philex, we all share.”
After 15 years, however, I had to bid Philex goodbye, but not to mining. I joined another mining company in Davao Region - Apex Mining Co., Inc. at Compostela Valley Province. From north to south, it is still mining. See how I fell in love with the industry? It is the effect of Philex PEP Song that when I joined Apex, we thought of composing a company song as well. I believe, the Apex Hymn, which I myself composed, with music from Dra. Roxane Idul-Lim, Apex Company physician from 2007-2010, made the Apex employees feel connected and made them realize their love for Apex.
“Braving the forces of nature
Bringing out the mountains’ grandeur
In the form of silver, of gold
Our love for Apex, in our hearts we hold.
Apex employees, we are blessed by God
In many years, guided by His love
Apex employees, we stand tall and proud
To everyone, we say clear and loud…
Responsible leader in the mining industry
Our way of work is health and safety
Enhancing environment, building community
In many ways, Apex helps a many.
Following veins and veins of gold
This story to our children told
In our time, as history unfolds
We are part of this great mine of gold!”
After working with Apex Mining Co., Inc. for almost 5 years, I was invited to work back in Benguet, in yet another mining company!
I am currently working now with Far Southeast Gold Resources, Inc. - my 3rd mining company. And if this mining project prospers and stays long, I am already looking at retiring from this company.
I have had other “suitors” along the way, some invitations to try working with other industries. But I have always declined. I just thought to myself - if I work with another industry, I’ll just be having another job. But not so in mining. In mining, you’ll have another family, another community.
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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