The End of the Road

[To properly enjoy this post you should be singing Boyz II Men – End of the Road in your head]

Here we are at last, after meeting with 30 organizations over a total of more than 43 hours, we have reached the end of the road here in Manila. Today we gave our final presentation to the CRS colleagues we have come to think of as dear friends.  Afterwards we shared a short lunch and joked about the cherished moments of the past two weeks as we visited a variety of metropolitan and rural areas.  It was hard to say goodbye but we were comforted by the fact that one of our new friends will be coming to visit Notre Dame soon.

So many

'Thank You' Cards Galore!

My favorite memory of the trip was meeting with the Bishop Dela Cruz in Kidapawan. After having heard so much about how anti-mining the church was, it was a pleasant surprise to find that our assumptions around the stance of the various clergy were not only challenged but proven false. For me (and our team), the Bishop represents more of what is needed here in the Philippines: moderation.  People to take the middle ground and approach issues with open minds and ears.  People who aren’t afraid to talk to both sides without fear of being labeled as pro or anti.  People who make smart, fact-based decisions.  Team Philippines felt this was the greatest weakness in the process but was also an area where CRS can contribute much through its networks and dialogue engagement capacities.

Our group also identified a real need for alternative business opportunities beyond the current agriculture vs mining debate. We still felt like the key was empowering local communities to make well-informed, smart decisions. For a lot of the people we came to serve, identifying opportunities outside of farming can be difficult because it’s all they’ve ever known. Since they only see two options, the decision is often black and white.  Alternative businesses such as eco-tourism and agricultural support services/processing, among others, can provide those options that empower communities to make better choices about how they leverage the resources they have.  The key here is to identify those businesses most appropriate to each community and provide them with the support services, such as financing and training, that will enable these communities to reach their potential.  Again CRS is nicely positioned within the NGO space to bring in the proper actors to help.

Over the last two weeks we got a little taste of not only the Philippines and the passionate, vibrant Filipinos but also what it’s like to operate in and face the challenges of doing Business on the Frontlines.  Far from being easy or simple, the issues here tend to be complex with hidden actors and long histories as well as many competing and often entrenched interests.  While  it would be easy to get mired in the turmoil, we sensed that there is much hope here that things can and will get better.  People are active and passionate about what’s going on in their country and view the future optimistically. It’s an exciting time to be in the Philippines.

Check out how excited we were at Karaoke!

Team Philippines out.

Manila, Mr Poon and club Elegante

And so week two begins. We woke up at 5:30 am bright and early to catch our flight to Manila. Our time in Davao was over and we had to now reconcile what we had learned with our initial thoughts and ideas on the project.

We arrived at the airport in Manila in good spirits with SuHan and Drew leading some flash mob dancing to rally the troops. Nothing like a little random dancing in the airport to get the day started. While driving to the hotel we discovered a hotel called the Lerato (yeah, I’m international) and a club called club Elegante. Seems like we have certainly left our mark here!

The team was also excited to be close to Mr. Poon again – the restaurant close to our hotel, for Mr. Poon had the best mango shakes in the whole of the Philippines (or so we think). Our visit to Mr. Poon’s was further highlighted by the fact that we actually met with Mr. Poon, the owner of the restaurant and took a picture with him! (thanks to SuHan our PR).

Our afternoon meeting was with a small organisation called Revenue watch which deals with revenue transparency in mining. For the past couple of days we have been reflecting on the massive information gap that exists about mining issues. All the information that has been presented to us thus far seems to be tainted by the anti-mining or pro-mining bias of the group that we were speaking to. Meeting with this group was refreshing because they presented the raw facts on mining in the Philippines. What was most surprising for me was what little employment opportunities large-scale mining actually contributed to the economy.

Thereafter, we headed back to our hotels to debrief and plan for the next day. Tuesday should be a thriller for group one (Carole, Lidet and Drew) who will be meeting with the Chamber of Mines in the Philippines.


Day of Rest

Yesterday (Saturday), we made the four-hour drive from Tacurong, where we had been based as we travelled to meet leaders from various local communities, and returned to Davao. The long drive was a great chance to look around and see the countryside. We passed through several military check points, but for the most part we were waved through. The one time we did get stopped, we think it was just so the guard could get a better look at Lidet’s hair. As Lidet put it, “He was delighted to see me!” Her hair has made her very popular in the Philippines.

The drive back to Davao also reinforced our gratitude for smooth, paved roads. We have been thoroughly impressed with our driver’s ability to weave through all kinds of traffic (cars, trucks, pedestrians, motorcycles, you name it), and all kinds of road conditions. He has been driving for CRS for over twenty years now, so he’s definitely had time to become an expert.

Now that we’re back at our hotel in Davao, we are enjoying a peaceful Sunday. After attending church in the morning, we took a Jeepney (sort of a minibus taxi – read more here) to the beach where we took a boat to Paradise Island! It was a great day at the beach, filled with lovely views and delicious treats like Halo Halo.

Jeepney Ride

The Jeepney may have been designed for people who are a little shorter than Chris.

Paradise Island

Drew relaxing after a strenuous week of peacebuilding.

Halo Halo

Carole enjoying some Halo-halo, a delicious Filipino dessert.

Tomorrow, we’ll fly back to Manila to continue with our packed schedule of meetings with business, government, and NGO leaders. Hard to believe our time in the Philippines is half-way gone. We still have a lot of learning ahead of us!

Reunited and mining for solutions….

After two days of being separated, Team Mindanao was excited to reunite and share our learnings.  Team 2 (Chris, Suhan and Lerato) was able to learn several valuable insights into the mining industry and even a bit about the Filipino culture.

Yesterday we spent the morning meeting with the Bishop of Marbel.  He shared with us his concerns on mining and the implications that he sees the industry having.  In his eyes, mining is a divisive industry which has great adverse effects both socially and environmentally.

In the afternoon we had the privilege to sit down with the governor of the province of South Cotabato.  Up to this point, everyone we had talked to was either strongly opposed of in favor of mining.  The governor however was opposed to mining only when its benefits didn’t outweigh the overall costs.  For example, his province passed an ordinance to ban open pit mining.  This halted the progress of the largest proposed mine in the Philippines, the Sagatarius Tampakan mine project.  However, the governor was taking action to regulate small scale mining in his province by shutting down illegal miners and requiring processing plants to register with the province.  He took a liking to our group and treated us to a meal of delicious crab that evening.  SuHan was in heaven.

Suhan's Heavenly Crab Courtesy of the Governor

Today we had the opportunity to visit the barangay (town) of T’Boli.  In this region there is a tremendous amount of small scale mining and a large scale mine, right next to each other (their tunnels even connect inside the mountain).   Basically the mine is a tunnel that goes into the mountain 2km.  A few miners manually knock off dirt and rock and other people pack it into 15kg sacks. Then crews carry it out of the tunnel for processing to collect the gold particles.  We are still understanding the economics but we think each transporter makes about $2 a day and the actual miner takes a cut of the oar found which can be much more lucrative.

In the afternoon we visited a processing plant.   In the plant they take the rock and dirt and put it into drums that they then spin (not fast) for 3 hours to break the pieces up into a sludge. They add mercury to the sludge to create a reaction with the gold and therefore collect all the little bits of gold.   From there the mercury gold mix is cooked to burn off the mercury to get the gold.  In all, 45kg (90lb +) ends up producing 3g of gold worth about $100.  This process only collects about 70% of the gold.  The processor will perform another process using cyanide to extract more ore, including silver.

One of the many gold processing plant and the contaminated water pool

The environmental impact of the operation was significant:  Workers were freely handling the toxic mercury. Mercury and cyanide contaminated water was able to flow back into the water supply.  It was only when I left that I realized we were in a neighborhood of about 20 different processors all performing the same operation and was taken aback by the size of the impact.  How many people relied on this water for agriculture and drinking water? How many workers would soon feel the effects of working with dangerous chemicals for their livelihood?

Finished gold product from 45kg of soil 

Once again our team began to draw understandings into the difficulties of the problem and the large environmental effect of the divisive mining industry.

Are you married?

We left the Bishop’s residence in Kidapawan after a 5 star continental breakfast and a warm hospitality, to head to Columbio, a province 1.30 hrs away from Kidapawan. After a bumpy road and a couple of checkpoints that we were able to ride through without being checked because of the CRS logo on out cars I guess, we arrived in Columbio to meet with some community leaders.

Our discussion with the indigenous community leaders was very informative. They shared with us their experiences with two mining companies that wanted to start exploration and mining in their area.They explained their opposition to mining adding that the benefits from mining would not compensate for the environmental challenges that they would face as a result of mining. Added to their environmental concerns which also took into account inter-generational responsibility, they shared their disappointment in the government and the structures established to protect their rights such as the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples for failing to do so. For the communities that we talked with, agriculture and not mining seemed to be the best way out of poverty in a way is environmentally and culturally sustainable.

We then went to the City Hall to talk to the Mayor and the Vice-Mayor who talked to us a lot about the potential of Columbio for coffee and their expected partnership with Rocky Mountains (as mentioned in Ben’s presentation in class). We also had the opportunity to taste the coffee… and it was really good! (this coming from me, a person from an Arabica coffee growing country should tell you something ..:P)

This said, and this explains the title of this post, we have been getting quite a few “are you married” questions. People here are very curious and don’t shy away from asking you how old you are and if you are married or not… so far nobody has tried to marry-us off…or may be somebody is and we just don’t know about it yet. But if any one of us gets married, stay assured that there’ll be very good dowry for our BOTFL class… and son’t underestimate  dowry from Mindanao. It might come in gold, copper and nickel… I mean, this is one of the world’s mineral rich regions in the world!

Breaking up is hard to do

[Author’s note: due to technical difficulties at the bishop’s house this post is a day late…and this is Team Philippines]

Despite what those back home think the Business on the Frontlines experience isn’t all glamour.  Yesterday (now 2 yesterdays ago) we (Team 1: Carole, Lidet, Drew) spent 8-10 hours in meetings and travel and today we were in meetings for 5-6 hours plus 3 hours of bumpy road travel.  Still an amazing opportunity and none of us would trade it for the world (well, maybe the world).

Earlier today (again, now yesterday) we had to say goodbye to our lovely friends in Team 2 (SuHan, Chris, Lerato) as they headed to Marbel (4+ hours of travel) while we came to Kidapawan.  We already miss them so…

Our original schedule called for us to have a dinner meeting with the Bishop De La Cruz and Fr Gus then adjourn to our hotel.  However, Bishop De La Cruz insisted we stay with him so tonight we are all squirreled away in rooms at the Bishop’s House.  I have to admit that is pretty glamorous and I think we’ll all check this off our bucket lists.  Dinner was a lovely affair with a giant lazy susan and plenty of great eats: tuna steaks, beef & broccoli, chicken soup, etc… plus good company.  Both the mango and pineapple were excellent and we had durian fruit (smells like hell, tastes like heaven) ice cream for dessert.  Tomorrow we’ve been promised the best cup of coffee of our lives.  We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (Drew from the future says it was really good but not the best).  On a side note, the access and welcome we’ve had with CRS have been phenomenal and we owe them many debts of thanks.

Beyond the good eats and gracious hospitality, today was an eye opening experience and potentially the most emotionally exhausting of the week (at least for me).  We spent almost 3 hours this morning with 2 representatives from an indigenous group in Zamboanga [Google Map this] who had traveled 2 days(!) by bus to meet with us.  They shared with us a multi-layered morass of deceit, violence, conflict and desperation.  Basically their homeland had been turned into a warzone, their elders coerced into corruption and their people so frightened that they set aside budget to arm both women and children.  Local government is useless because their 19 police officers are no match for the 300+ private security forces amassed by various players including government forces, ex military officers and the NPA, an armed communist rebel group.  One last hope lay before them: finalizing a document through the government that would give them some legal basis for evicting people from their land.  The situation was so hopeless it was almost comical: for levity we all joked about how the real issue here was the outrageous inflation that had taken Coke from 20 pesos to 65 pesos.

We talked in Innovation about gaining empathy as a way of truly understanding a problem and finding excellent solutions.  I can think of no way in which I could understand how a person in this situation feels: violence is a daily fact of life and there are no options for leaving.  If you speak out you get shot and if you keep quiet you might get shot anyways.  How can we hope to truly understand that life?  How do you fix such a seemingly intractable problem?  What role can business play in creating peace where up to now it has only created chaos?

For every dark cloud there is a silver lining (or rainbow or whatever) and today we found a bit of that.  Through our discourse with the Bishop and Fr Gus we discovered that it is possible to do mining responsibly.  Not only that, there is a great example right here in the Philippines.  This Filipino-owned mine makes a nice profit, pays royalties to the various levels of government, and has setup a blind trust to manage the royalty stream for the barangay (village) so that they are only spending the interest, not the principle, on smart infrastructure projects.  Our team is excited to follow up on this and see how this mine and profit sharing system could potentially be used as a model for the nation.  Plus the guy running the whole thing, David M Consunji, has survived 4 plane crashes, including one where he landed the plane himself.  Empowering people one day, defying death the next….awesome.

So what’s the take away here?  We really are doing Business on the Frontlines; people are dying every day here.  We know it’s not a problem we’ll be able to solve in 2 weeks but we have the chance to make at least a small difference….and that’s pretty cool.

Team Mindanao: Photo Gallery

Our Mission: How can advocacy groups and mining companies partner to build peace in Mindanao?

Traveling in Style #1

Traveling in Style #2

Discussions… Conversations.. Info Sessions… Lectures…

Chris beginning his Mining Empire (Meeting with MGB)

Team Picture @ CRS Mindanao

Filipino Breakfast

Native Chicken BBQ Baby


“It’s like Addis” says Lidet. Yes, there is something so very familiar about the streets of Manila. There is something familiar about the vendors on the street selling food, the hustle of the endless foot traffic and the somewhat aggressive taxi drivers bobbing and weaving through traffic. We came to the Philippines to encounter a different world and a different culture but we have been struck by how similar it is to our own countries and how familiar it feels.

We have been in the Philippines for two days now. After an introductory meeting with the people at CRS, we were treated to some delightful Filipino cuisine. Then we had an afternoon to take in the sights and sounds of the city.  We eagerly went exploring, taking it all in, knowing that on Monday, the real work would begin.

Our project is to learn about the impacts of mining on local communities and to develop a set of best practices for sustainable mining. This morning we had our first real interview at the CRS headquarters in Manila with prominent anti-mining activists. The presentation we were given was both informative and compelling. What we read and researched prior to our arrival could not have prepared us for the complexity of the problem. The issues that we have been reading and talking about are their lived realities. This meeting has made us question even our own hypothesis statement… really can mining be done sustainably in the Philippines? The answer to that must wait; fortunately we have meetings with other people that can help balance out the initial picture that has been painted.

After our meeting we hurriedly finished our lunch and then prepared to head off the City of Davao in Mindanao. Our learning continues…



Arrival in Manila

Team Philippines arrived safely in Manila last night. After 18 hours on airplanes (13 hours from Chicago to Tokyo, then 5 hours from Tokyo to Manila) we were happy to get to our hotel for some much needed rest.

It’s a bright, clear morning here, and we’re getting ready to meet with the CRS country representatives in a couple of hours. After our Skype conference calls with them over the past several weeks, we are looking forward to meeting them in person and learning more about the project we will be working on here for the next two weeks.