To Kill A Mountain

I went to Hinatuan, an island in the province of Surigao, to see about a mountain that Gina Lopez said was killed.

Before I embarked on the journey, I googled a question – how to kill a mountain? You guessed right – Google will give you the Game of Thrones.I admit I was anxious on that motorboat ride from the port of “bilang-bilang” to the island of Hinatuan. Though I doubted that anyone can actually kill a mountain, Gina’s statement made such a strong impact that I didn’t know what to expect.

So it was such a relief, for the mountain was not dead. It was breathing and heaving with people engaged in the Science called mining. Gina Lopez may have exaggerated. But I think she lied.

That a mountain was killed according to Gina Lopez was the talk of the town. It made the 6 o’clock news. The story of Gina’s statement was in the papers and in social media, tweeted and re-tweeted, shared and reposted.

You see, that someone killed a mountain was a serious allegation, no matter if there was no truth to the accusation or if indeed someone can actually “kill” a mountain. So I had to see that mountain for myself. And I went.

It was a rough ride to the island. The waves sharp, the ocean menacing, but the view was magnificent. The water was green, and then blue. The mangroves on some islets my boatman maneuvered from along the way looked wild and untouched. There were rock formations from a distance that seemed really ancient. There were fishermen about, some with motorboats, some brave enough with just oars, their faces covered to anonymity as protection from the harsh wind.

I was with a doctor on the small boat, she was going to a medical mission in Talavera, one of the communities around the mine site. Though one could not make conversations in that situation, she seemed glad for the company, for it was almost two hours of very bumpy, very wet, boat ride.

People in Surigao will tell you that there are only two weather conditions in the province – wet and very wet – and it rained the night before so the grounds at Hinatuan was very sticky when I stepped on the island for the first time, and very red. I was warmly welcomed. After all, it is not often that someone would come visiting to see if it was true that a mountain was killed.

It probably would be difficult to persuade Gina to take back what she said about a mountain being killed. She’s seen Hinatuan from a chopper. I think, she first needs to get her shoes ‘red-dirty’ to be convinced that what she said about the mountain being killed was not only “not true” but “impossible”.

I was made to understand that if you measure it, Hinatuan is about 1.2 billion cubic meters of rocks and soil and minerals and everything else that makes the mountain.

The Hinatuan miners have moved only 1.5 percent of this volume in the past 36 years. 1.5 percent of 1.2 billion for Gina may seem still a huge number, but for me it’s like – libag – the dirt from your skin that you won’t miss, or like the nails cut from your fingers.

Hinatuan is 1,275 hectares of highly-mineralized land area. The government allowed only 774 hectares to be mined. Hinatuan Mining has touched only 361 hectares in the past 36 years.

If you google the island, you’d see brown patches of “disturbed land” mostly on the top of the mountain. It is the active mine site that you will see but worry not, because only the top soil have been "disturbed" and the miners will rehabilitate these disturbed patches of land, and, in time, Hinatuan’s green face will be greener than when the miners first start taking care of this mountain.

No blasting done here, or anywhere in the Philippines for that matter, because Philippine miners do not blast off mountains, contrary to Gina's videos.

And in return, children of Hinatuan get good education, provided with health service and the infrastructure in the area developed. Hinatuan mining gives millions of pesos to the government in taxes, some 20 percent of its total capital expenditure, on a regular basis, plus some. Hinatuan mining takes care of its communities on its own expense, not bothering the government for funds.

To make accurate statements about Hinatuan one needs to talk to at least a few people – Rolly, Francis, Butch, Gerald and Jay-R from the mines to start with, and yes, Oca the boatman. But I doubt if Gina Lopez would see them, take a two-hour, treacherous, boat trip to the island just to be proven wrong.

The Hinatuan mine site is like an enterprise, an organization with all kinds of people – miners, doctors, nurses, foresters, engineers, teachers, accountants, social workers, environmental scientists, writers, geologists, and many more.

And these people are working every day, whatever the weather, to make sure that the mountain lives and gives life. I met so many people at the foot of the mountain, the one that Gina said got killed, and at the top. They have so many stories to share. I have so much story-telling to do.

Oh, someone sent me a photo of the red river of Hayanggabon, he said – “the river is dead as result of the dead mountain”. I think I made myself very clear that the mountain is not dead and will never die, I will deal with the accusation of the “dead river” next time.

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