Women in the mines
“It is a curse and a blessing,” says Eliza “Ging” Laudencia, a geologist, of the topography of the Philippines. Being in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” the Philippines is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and is studded with faults. But these same conditions “yield minerals and geothermal energy,” which offer a rich natural resource of precious metals, gems and sources of energy. “They go hand in hand,” Ging says.
The same minerals and energy sources have also given birth to a community of Filipino geologists, which used to be male-dominated but is now, says Ging, “about equal in number among men and women.”
Ging joined other women geologists, and board members of Diwata, a nongovernment organization representing “women in resource development,” at a recent Bulong Pulungan at Sofitel devoted to women in geology and the role of the industry and profession in national development. Diwata is chaired by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Domingo Albert, with lawyer Patricia Bunye serving as president.
“Geology rocks!” declares Ging, a mother of six who specializes in the field of engineering geology and used to work with the National Power Corp.
Indeed, points out Ines Rosanna “Sana” Balangue-Tarriela in her presentation on “One Normal Day in Mining,” we use throughout the day and in much of our lives products with minerals and other mined materials, products we take for granted and yet depend on for our needs and convenience.
Sana is a real “child of the mines,” having spent much of her childhood in Marinduque where her father used to work for Marcopper mines.
Having spent 28 years in the mines, most of them as a geologist with Philex, Redempta “Dempta” Pena Baluda has reason to declare that she is “luckier than most women working in the cities.” For one, the Philex mine in Benguet was the setting for her own love story, for this is where she met her husband, then working as a nurse in the company hospital. This is also where they raised their four boys, all of them now somehow connected with Philex.
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The youngest of the “lady geologists” was Rodalee Ofrija, a mining engineer with the Chamber of Mines, who spoke about the efforts of mining companies to engage in corporate social responsibility programs not just in their areas of operations but around the country.
“CSR in mining is not new,” says Rodalee, noting how Baguio and environs “flourished” from a tiny hill station for American colonists seeking to escape the warm lowland, to the city it is now largely because of revenues from the mining companies. She says mining companies put in provisions for “roads, power, water” long before they even hope to begin making profits, and all of these infrastructures “have an impact on the surrounding communities,” empowering them and encouraging the people “to protect the environment.”
Outside their own areas of operations, the women geologists say, miners are likewise engaged in search, rescue and retrieval missions in the wake of earthquakes and landslides. Such was the case in the 1990 Northern Luzon earthquake, as well as in more recent disasters such as in Compostela Valley. Do they think Filipinos are capable of mounting rescue operations on the same scale as that in Chile? The women agree wholeheartedly, but remark that “such a disaster won’t happen here” because (legal) mines are required by law to have at least two shafts, unlike that in Chile which had only a single shaft.
Aside from involvement in search-and-rescue operations, mining companies also engage in broader community service efforts under the “Pusong Minero” program of the Chamber of Mines. In the wake of Tropical Storm “Sendong” and Typhoon “Pablo” in Northern Mindanao, for instance, mining companies conducted medical missions for communities badly hit by the disasters.
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But the really good news for geology students and graduates, men or women, is that the profession pays well, with starting salaries way above those in the very popular BPO (business process outsourcing) field.
A new geology graduate, even before passing the board, says Ging, is guaranteed a starting salary of P50,000, and often, as is the case with some of the women geologists on the panel, job offers come pouring in even before they finish the course. “And when you pass the board exams, you can even get a raise of at least P10,000.”
“It is a rewarding and exciting profession,” remarks Ging. Dempta adds that the perks and privileges are proof of “the good things one can get from the mines.” One of these, she adds, is that their work gives them a chance to develop their leadership skills, “even outside the mines, in our communities.”
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Speaking of women who break the mold and seek to lead their families and communities in the betterment of society, the Department of Women and Development Studies (DWDS) in the University of the Philippines Diliman is now accepting second-semester applications for its master of arts and diploma programs.
The DWDS is the only academic department of its kind in the Philippines and is a pioneer in the Asia-Pacific region. Its programs aim to provide a historical and comprehensive perspective to the study of gender and development, particularly in the context of the Global South and the Philippines.
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