ADVOCACY MindaNOW: Rim of fire, earthquakes, gold mines and tragedy by Jess G. Dureza

DAVAO CITY (15 March 2011) — Last Friday afternoon, I was at the Manila airport lounge waiting for my delayed flight back to Davao City. First came a text message about a big earthquake somewhere in Japan. When my travelling companion Renne Subido started surfing to check, a  tsumani alert was underway.  A grim tragedy was in fact in progress, and then flashed worldwide. Up to today, the horror is still unfolding.

I felt a bit strange.  What an eerie coincidence. A few days back and almost daily up to Friday before motoring to the airport,  I was getting  interesting  briefers about the so-called “rim of fire”, the tectonic plates and their movements, the so-called “faults”, earthquakes – and mineralization or how mineral deposits came about.  I gathered there’s an evident link among them.

A friend, John  B. Ridsdel, who has spent the best part of his not-so-young life (sorry John!) in mining, gas and oil business had been explaining to me, with the use of a “minerals” map of the Philippines, how minerals were born or made perhaps millions of years ago. John is the senior vice president and chief operating officer of TVI Resource Development Phils,  Inc which operates the TVI mining company principally in  the Zamboanga peninsula. I was getting a daily briefing from him and from TVIRD president Eugene Mateo as I agreed to volunteer my services and join as member of the board of the Maple Tree Foundation (MTF), a group that envisions to provide assistance to poor communities principally in the Zamboanga peninsula.

Ms. Diane James, wife of TVI’s chief Cliff James is head of the MTF. (Interestingly, part of MTF funds is sourced from donations coming from university students in Calgary, Canada, home of TVI international.)

According to John, pointing to a company map, the Philippines is within the so-called “rim of fire” which is a circular swath around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes usually strike. The recorded incidents of powerful quakes made up for this reputation.  Japan of course, like us, straddles that “ring”.

The “minerals  map”  John was using  must be on every  wall of every mining company operating in the country because it shows where mining firms operate, or where explorations show signs of mineral presence like gold, copper, etc. indicated by colored dots. Gold-rush areas clutter this imaginary line.  Very interesting because where the dots are, the publicly known “finds” are indicated. One example is the line  from the southern tip  in the Tampakan area in southern Philippines,( where Sagittarius Mining Inc is) cutting across upwards to Davao del Norte, then Compostela Valley (Diwalwal, etc), Davao Oriental  rising  up to Surigao and Agusan (Philsaga) crossing over to the Visayas region and then to Luzon.

In the Zamboanga peninsula, another  imaginary  line stretches up. The areas mentioned above are cluttered with so-called “small scale mining areas” where ordinary folks just dig and shovel or pan the rivers for gold.

The country is awash with deposits and especially Mindanao with its  small scale miners.  I asked John to explain this in layman’s terms. Although he might have oversimplified it (or had made it up himself which I doubt he would) this is his story: the Philippines is “squeezed” by two big “plates”, the Pacific plate on the east and the Asian plate on the west. Both plates are cracks on the earth’s surface and mostly submerged in the two oceans on both sides. From time to time, these plates move,  pressing and sandwiching the Philippines from both sides or slipping down or up as the case may be. These movements create massive movements of the earth’s surface popularly called earthquakes. Massive sudden movements, especially one plate slipping up or downwards create a powerful pressure and movement of the ocean water, hence tsunamis take place. This was what happened in the Japan incident.

But here’s a twist. The movements of these plates are not that always bad or tragic. They bring about mineralization or the formation of gold, copper, or other mineral deposits. There is a plausible explanation for this.  Perhaps millions of years ago, when these plates moved, the pressure from the core of the earth escaped to the surface or materials from down there were pushed up, rising above ocean floors. Thus islands were born or mountains and volcanoes rose jutting out as pressure vents.  As a result perhaps of this upward tremendous pressure with the earth core’s magma and other materials pushed to the surface, mineral deposits like gold, copper, etc were made or formed. Thus some gold or copper or other mineral deposits are found on surface areas extracted by our small scale miners by simply shoveling and a little digging. (Although we also know that some so-called “small-scale miners” are no longer that small anymore.)

Large scale companies scrape these deposits without having to dig in what we know as open pit mining.  This explains why deposits, especially in the Philippines are tracked mostly in mountainous areas. And perhaps along “fault lines” or cracks or fissures on the earth’s surface.

I earlier said that this is an eerie coincidence that I got a mouthful of this briefing just as the Japan earthquake was happening.  Earth’s crust movements bring death and unimaginable destruction.  But that’s how mineral deposits were also born. They say that in every dark cloud, there is always a silver lining.

This will also remind all of us that Mother Nature has its own mysterious ways beyond human anticipation or control — advances in modern technology notwithstanding. This reminds us too of our vulnerability and our mortality. Let us also take note that while the “rim of fire” is already active all around us, we in the Philippines have been so far spared that magnitude. My wife Beth has an explanation.  Prayers, especially for Divine Mercy, are more powerful than the 8.9-manitude Japan quake. She is confident those prayers will shield us from all this. Amen?

(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW. You may email him at [email protected])

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