IF YOU are wondering where I spent my weekend recently, think again. I was having a blast: knowing the importance of mining, sleeping at a sprawling resort, watching street dancing, and more importantly eating mouth-watering foods.
Every weekend, I usually go to a place which I have not visited yet. And recently, it was already Thursday and I still didn't have itinerary for the weekend. There was no invitation yet!
But by Friday morning, I received a text message from Nikki Gomez, who belonged to my circle of friends when we were still in college.
"Would you like to join the scribes from Davao who would visit projects of the SMI?" the message said. SMI stands for Sagittarius Mines, Inc.? "It will be this coming weekend." I immediately sent him my reply: "Sure. Where would we meet and what time we will be leaving?"
I waited for the group in Digos City. At 10 a.m., they arrived. After a short introduction, off we traveled to General Santos City.
On the way, Rene Lumawag, a photographer for Mindanao Times, was sharing some jokes. There were six of us in the van; we laughed and had a good time. Two broadcast journalists were in another van.
It was almost 1 p.m. when we reached General Santos. We were hungry. But it was good a superb lunch was already prepared. After eating, we went inside the office and had a short orientation on the company's safety precautions when visiting the corefarm in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
The travel time was almost an hour from General Santos City to the project site in. The ride was smooth until we entered barangay Liberty. "It looks like it is a river that has been dried up of water," Judy Quiros, a Davao correspondent of a national daily, commented.
But we managed to reach our destination. We went down and took some photographs outside the Tampakan project. After that, we were brought to the environmental project of the company, where seedlings of the indigenous trees in the area are grown.
"This project is part of the company's social responsibility," said Emmanuel Vinagrera, the media liaison officer. "We also have propagated fruit trees and vegetable seedlings. These are distributed to our beneficiaries."
For the information of the uninformed, Indophil Resources NL owns 37.5 percent of the Tampakan project, while the rest of the controlling equity at SMI is held by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer.
The Tampakan project is expected to bring in $5.2 billion investments for its commercial operation slated in 2016. SMI estimates the site can yield 13.5 million metric tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.
Before the day was over, we went back to the city of Koronadal. The word Koronadal is believed to have been derived from two Blaan words: koron or kolon, which means "cogon grass" and nadal or datal, which means "plain" or the place where the native lives.
Marbel, which is another name for the poblacion, comes from the Blaan term Marb-El for "murky waters" referring to a river, now called Marbel River.
The Blaan tribe is one of the indigenous peoples of the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Another tribe called the Maguindanao also inhabits the same area. The two tribes consider themselves to be brothers and sisters.
About one kilometer away from the city proper is The Farm at Carpenter Hill, where we were billeted. The owners called it as such because the resort is set in a farm whose trees, shrubs and flowers are grouped in a myriad of natural colors.
One of its attractions is a theme garden showcasing a collection of prized bonsai trees around the Japanese hall with a stream completing the postcard perfect setting. Not far from the garden are the Japanese hotel villas, zen-inspired hotel suits with high-end amenities. There are six units and each has private gate ensuring utmost privacy and total relaxation.
In the morning, my room mate, Joel Dalumpines, woke up early. "We will leave at 7 a.m. to watch the T'nalak Festival in the city today," he told me. The festival is named after t'nalak, a colorful abaca cloth created and woven by the women of the province's T'boli tribe. The cloth is chosen as the festival icon as it is considered to symbolize the blending of culture, strength and unity of the various ethnic groups living in the province.
T'nalak Festival is a week-long celebration; but the most awaited activity is the parade called Madal Bel. Dancers from around the province, dressed in native costumes of Blaan, T'boli and other tribal groups in Mindanao, perform on the streets of the city.
While eating our breakfast, it rained. "Do you think there will still be street dancing?" Judy wondered. "I don't know," I answered. Since no one was sure whether the street dancing will push through, I went back to my room and relax. At nine, I received a text from Judy. "We will be leaving soon," it said. I immediately went to the lobby. Ten minutes later, we were in the city. We found out that street dancing pushed through even if it was raining. A policeman told us that the showdown was going on beside the Koronadal stadium. And that was where the group went.
"There are three categories: the Medal be'Lan, the Kasadyahan sa Kapatagan, and Kadsagayan a Lalan," said one of the organizers. "Each category has three contingents. Prizes at stake are P100,000, P75,000, and P50,000 for first, second and third winners." Losing groups receive P10,000 each.
At the middle of the showdown, Senator Franklin Drillon arrived. The former senate president delivered a short message. "Even if it is Sunday today, I come here to support your celebration," he said. He also thanked the people for voting for him the last May election.
We only watched three groups: one from the Lake Sebu National High School and two from the Tupi National High School. We didn't have the time to watch the other groups since we had another place to visit.
But before we left, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Chan, a photographer whom I came to know through Facebook. Since he was there to take photos of the event, I asked him if he could send some pictures for this article. The photos you see on street dancing here are courtesy of Michael Chan.