I thought SMI is just a big company situated in Tampakan. But I realized that it's not just a big company, it plays an important role in growing and sustaining the country's economy and community through its Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in Southern Mindanao, specifically in the four bounded areas which are the Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Malungon, Province of Sarangani.
Kala ko nga hindi ko kaya gumawa ng article about the SMI Tour. Dahil na rin sa non-stop na Earth Hour (Total Blackout) every 12 in 24 hours (and it really sucks, for real) and due to my hectic school schedules that month because it was the finals' week. Andaming inasikaso, tinapos, at natapos rin and now, I have enough time to write a blog post.
That Intro, the 1st paragraph, may convince the people to support the project of SMI. Just read the line "Working Together for a Sustainable Future". It may have different ideas and thoughts but for me, it's not just a word; not a sentence nor a phrase, it's a story. An untold story that people should know, and YOU should know better about SMI. Here's my story during what happened to our Company Tour.
BEHIND THE CURTAIN. The story began when I was invited to join the SMI Tour by no other than Mr. Avel Manansala, through his private plurk post in the internet. With no hesitation, I responded to it. "I'LL GO". But first, (Honestly Speaking) ang alam ko lang about SMI is not just a company, it's a big mining company operated in Tampakan. Madaming kontrobersyal na balita ang naririnig ko, waves of the radio, on the television and even on newspaper write-ups. Many activists and religious groups wanted to dismantle the company because mining is definitely not good for the people and the environment. And here's the exciting one: I don't even know what's in Tampakan. I never been there. I never visited the place, so it was kinda exciting.
READY TO TAKE OFF. And the moment of truth came, March 6. I packed my things up and waited at the City Hall at six in the morning with some fellow bloggers, Ate Donna, Sir Gilbert, Sir Mandi, Ate Rose, Sir Arnel, Ate Tammy, Ate Dimple, Ate Cindy, Ma'am Jinky, Sir Lito, Ate Frances, Ate Van, Kuya Xyrilloid and Doc Remo. Luckily, Sir Gilbert and Ate Rose prepared cups of coffee and a bag full of yum, hot pandesal for all of us. Kung walang pagkain, siguro kumapal pa nang lalo ang aming mga eyebags. But still, no sign of Manansala Brothers, who told us to be early as much as possible. After 45 minutes of waiting, Sir Avel and Sir Orman came with full of enthusiasm and excitement. Kami rin, nasisiyahan at masisiyahan sa kung ano man ang mangyari sa tour. Hindi rin namin makakalimutan ang kaarawan ni Sir Lito so we greeted him. After a little chit-chat with my colleagues, Ma'am Bench with nine Toyota 4x4 Hilux (and really, they look like brand new) came to our view.
SPEED OF LIGHT. Still thinking if what Tampakan looks like. Is it like Polomolok or Tupi or some neighboring towns in the province? Or maybe it's just a small, quiet town with extraordinary features and hidden secrets behind those tall mountains and hills. Para malaman at makita ko, umalis na kami sa City Hall. It was like you were in a reality show "Amazing Race", with Toyota Hilux and a driver, drove too fast like a speed of light, parang humahabol sa oras. Usual interval time from GenSan to Tampakan is almost an hour but actually, with a speed of almost a hundred kilometers per hour, it only took 45 minutes for us to arrive the first pit stop, the Main Office of SMI in Tampakan. Indeed, Tampakan's a small, quiet town with extraordinary features and hidden secrets behind those tall mountains and hills.
EXPLORING, NOT OPERATING. We had an Orientation in their Conference Hall before visiting the places of interest in the tour. First they introduced the company and on what's their purpose in the community. Ito talaga, dito ako namulat sa katotohanan: when they told us that they are on the stage of exploring and still not operating as a mining company. Akala namin lahat that they are fully-operating as a mining company. At least it is clear that they are on that stage pa. They are still exploring for the possible sites of minerals like copper and gold in the mountains and hills of Tampakan, Columbio and Kiblawan. They had also presented a timeline which shows the stages and their future plans for exploring, researching and operating the mining comany. By 2016, the company will be on a full-scale mining in three bounded municipal areas. They also presented the Liberty Core Farm's features and the Do's and Don'ts before, during and after entering the farm site. The most important thing in every plant/company tour is the health and safety of the visitor and that's the main priority of SMI, so they conducted a 10-minute debriefing on Emergency Plan about Health and Safety.
INSIDE THE MILITARY CAMP. I survived the 1st round which was the Briefing. And of course, hindi mawawala ang meryenda't picture taking para may remembrance. The people of SMI were so nice and they showned hospitality which makes them truly a full-blooded Filipino. Saludo ako at ang GenSan Bloggers sa inyo. Umalis na kami sa town proper para bisitahin ang Liberty Core Farm. It was a bumpy and dusty ride. It took 15 minutes for us to arrive in the site from the SMI Main Office. The place looked like you're inside the Military Camp, as you can see in War-related movies or something. Very tight ang security ng lugar, kung ilang gates meron sila, katataas ng kanilang pader, and there's like some kinda security tower in every corner of the fence. Para ka nang nasa military camp. We entered the place and I was amazed, on the right side of the farm (when you are entering the main gate) you can see the real farm of Adam and Eve. I asked myself if it was the replica of the "Garden of Eve" or something. Oh yeah, but for real, it's a farm with vast full of flowers of different kinds of species, the trees, and even insects and animals around. (Well, I saw four dogs, three cats and four grass-eating carabaos). We continued exploring the place until we reached out the second gate: the real Core Farm.
NO CAMERA's ALLOWED, WHATSOEVER. Inside the Core Farm is the storage of some rocks and soils collected from different sites and areas. Most of the samples were came from 100 to 300 meters deep. That's about 5 to 20 floors high! That's why they are still exploring the sites. Hindi natin alam madami pa palang nakaimbak na copper and gold more than 300 meters below! May intermission pang nangyari. We already warned during the debriefing that no camera is allowed when you're inside the farm and still we, Filipinos, love to ignore it. Picture pa rin nang picture. Eto pa isang humirit: Kala mo naman sinong magsasabi sa'yo na bawal picturan, 'yun pala siya mismo ang lumalabag sa kanyang kautusan dahil picture siya nang picture! (Hahaha. Naloka lang ako 'dun). Anyways, Some scientist explained to us on why they keep on digging and digging the land and still exploring the site. They also calculated and examined the rocks one by one if there are some minerals stored in it.
GARDEN OF EVE. After dealing with rocks and other forms of soil, we headed to the mini-zoo and mini-Garden of Eve. The place was in well-organized manner, all insects were separated in the garden, the garden was separated from their species and habitats, and also the food was separated from humans, for a while. There was a tour guide to explain and to present to us the garden. It was kinda weird to go in a place with full of earthworms. But in reality, it helps to balance our ecosystem. Speaking of, there were rare species of Ophricrania that also help to balance the ecosystem. It was called the SMI Stick Insect, one of a kind in the world. There were also lots of butterflies in the butterfly garden, some big, wormy caterpillars living in the plants around the garden. After an interesting world of insects, we went to the weather control tower of SMI in Liberty. It was as tall as our antenna in the rooftop of our house. It can give results on the humidity, the temperature, and other weather-like stuffs, in a matter of minutes and send its data in the main office. It also detects the amount of precipitation in a day. SMI is not just only a big mining company, it is a big, community-caring, environment-friendly mining company. After the short tour, we jumped off to eat our lunch and also to celebrate Sir Lito's Birthday.
ROCKY ROAD. Our stomachs were totally full when we jumped off to somewhere that I don't know. We departed the Core Farm by one in the afternoon. The driver told us that it's going to be a bumpy ride in the rocky road. And yes, the driver was right. It was a bumpy ride in the rocky road with the zigzag and curvy roads. It was as dangerous as an airplane crossing the clouds, as bumpy as a bumper car in Worlds of Fun, and as wild as the surf dance ride in Star City. But, I really love the dusty, wild ride. It took an hour and a half to reach the deserted place called Salnaong in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat. I don't know where is Columbio anyway but it was my first time to visit a remoted area, no communication, no public transportation nor civilization.
ENCOUNTERED WITH THE B'LAAN COMMUNITY. They were awesome. That's all I can say after I saw their situation in the highlands of Salnaong. Why awesome? Because they can live without technology, they can live without cellphones or television sets, they can live as long as they're together. Hindi ko nga kayang mabuhay kapag walang TV or cellphone! They were also hospitable toward us. They prepared a program and a tribal dance for us. It was kinda a mini-fiesta with colorful costumes and powerful sounds. They also offered a mini-tour in the forest, to see their cemetery and take note: it was in the forest, on the caves. So I tried to join the mini-tour thingy with my fellow bloggers. I think we walked about 300 meters, 20 minutes from the grasslands to cornfields, from the top of the hill going down, from deadwoods to very high cornfields, and from century-old plants to millenium-old trees. If you want to go back to Salnaong, just reverse on what I said. After we arrived safe and sound in the cemetery, the place seemed to be cold and windy. It was on the caves. I also encountered their way of worshiping their Gods. They made offerings like a chick or money, and prayed their intentions altogether. It was also my how-many-times to enter in a cave without bats, and it was totally cold. I felt like entering a mall and stayed there for how many minutes. I told them (as a joke) not to come back to Salnaong or even in GenSan, I would like to stay here, I will just install a WiFi Access here (but literally, it's impossible to have an internet connection in the forest because there's no civilization). It was the time for us to go back in SMI Main Office but first, we enjoyed ourselves in a 10-minute break, took a mini tour in their community. We entered their learning facility room. It was lack of books, tables and chairs, and even other educational materials. I hope I can donate my books to their school for the kids to read and to widen their knowledge through books. We were also enjoyed taking some pictures of the place. After the short break, we thanked the B'laan community in Salnaong for being hospitable and kind to us. I think I got a souvenir picture from the B'laan community.
I SHALL RETURN, APAREJA. We hit the road from Salnaong to SMI Main Office, Tampakan. I couldn't sleep in the car because it was too bumpy and I was very dizzy. Salvation, when we arrived the office. We had a little conversation at the Conference Room about the experiences in Core Farm, Salnaong, Cemetery, the bumpy ride. We thanked the company from our hearts for that wonderful, exciting and thrilling tour. Mahaba pa ang oras, it was four in the afternoon when we decided to eat at the controversial "I Shall Return" Apareja Buko Halo-Halo in Carpenter Hills, Koronadal City. For only 55 pesos, mabubusog ka na dahil sa puno ito ng ingredients. It is indeed, the best Buko Halo-Halo. I shall return nga talaga dahil sa sarap. And sad to say, at five in the afternoon, we kicked the road off to GenSan. At least I had fun during the tour, and also my fellow bloggers.
It was a tiring whole day tour in SMI. That tiring word only means that you have something to share to others about SMI, you learned a lot during the discovery tour that you might share to others, at least you have a wide knowledge on what they are doing just to sustain our future. The whole discovery tour helped me on accepting the real world. One is that our world is totally different from the highlands, the tribe people. I could wish that all of us can live in a place that there is no discrimination, no tribal wars nor religious conflicts. But it's a no-no: B'laans are trained to live as a tribe, trained to worship their Gods and trained to preserve their history and culture.
I also learned that mining has an important role in the economy of a country. It is a big investment in the country, and create more jobs. But it can be harmful to the environment. That's why in SMI, they are rebuilting the places like planting trees in order to save the Mother Earth. They are also helping very far and hard to reach communities to sustain their education, in health services and in jobs. SMI also helps and will help the needs of our country.
Thanks to the SMI staff, Ma'am Bench, Ate Janice, Ate Khillen and Ate Elaiza, for the experience. Also to the rest of SMI staffs and crews, from the Main Office to Liberty CoreFarm. It was an exciting Discovery Trip. And of course, the ever-loving Manansala Brothers, Sir Orman and Sir Avel for inviting us to come and experience the SMI way. :)
Thank you very much SOX Bloggers for the photos! :)