Heralded general credits mining for his successBy Daxim L. Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
One of the country’s most decorated military officers, recently retired Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, credits his success to his humble beginnings in a mining community.
He was born in a bunkhouse in a mining camp in Itogon, Benguet.
At one point in his youth, he dreamed of working in the mining industry.
“It was my dream back then to become a mining engineer,” Ortiz said in a recent interview.
In those bunkhouses, you would find the stock offices with the engineers’ living quarters on top. “The mining engineers there would throw us candies when we were around,” recalled Ortiz, who until late last year was the commanding general of the Philippine Army.
“Many of us wanted to become mining engineers… because ‘being on top of the bunkhouses also implied the many benefits that mining engineers enjoyed.’”
Ortiz’s father, Faustino Ortiz Sr., worked as a foreman at the mines, while his mother Euprefecia looked after him and his four siblings.
When he was in the third grade, the young boy sold pan de sal and coffee to the miners with the help of a brother and some friends.
“We sold bread and coffee to the miners between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. This was their merienda,” Ortiz said, adding that he earned P2.50 a night—a big amount in those days—from this small enterprise.
“Growing up in a mining community had a big influence on me,” he said. “I still have friends there today. These are the same friends I’ve had since my elementary and high school days. They were the same ones who attended my retirement rites [from the Philippine Army].”
Ortiz studied at Balatoc Elementary School, which was part of the education program that the mining company provided to the host communities.
“Free education was part of the employee benefits provided by the company, in addition to free bunkhouses, electricity, water and even firewood,” he said.
This is a thrust that the industry continues to this day, committing billions of pesos in an effort to reverse years of negative publicity caused by past sins against the environment and host communities, it has been observed.
Recently, the largest firms in local mining rolled out a major initiative to promote “responsible mining” and help overcome roadblocks that prevent the sector from achieving its full potential.
P1.5-B social plan
According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, various mining companies have begun to spend what will eventually amount to P1.5 billion in Social Development Management Programs (SDMPs) from 2010 up to 2014.
On top of this, 35 metallic mine operators have also committed more than P2 billion for their first and second batches of SDMPs which began in 2002 and will run until 2014. As many as 139 barangays will reportedly benefit from the programs.
Hearts and minds
The additional spending aimed at winning over the “hearts and minds” of local communities comes amid an intense public relations campaign being waged against the mining industry by critics who claim that the companies are destroying the environment through their activities.
As far as Ortiz is concerned, his experience with the mining industry has been positive, having seen for himself its contributions toward enriching people’s lives.
Despite having benefited from the industry, however, the retired military officer is careful to distinguish those who practice responsible mining and those that couldn’t care less about the environment.
“I am for responsible mining,” he declares. “Most of the mining companies secure permits and requirements before they are allowed to operate. They give due consideration to the environment.”
More than the benefits enjoyed by the people living in mining communities, Ortiz noted that the values he learned there were the same values he has carried with him through adulthood and his military career.
“You learn many things there—like survival, hard work, patience and human relations… even punctuality,” he said.
After high school, Ortiz pursued an engineering degree in Baguio City’s St. Louis University, supporting himself through college by working as a silversmith.
It was at this point that a visit to a friend led him to a military career.
A twist of fate
“We had an assignment in one subject, and I didn’t have the book I needed,” he recalled. “So I went to a friend, who was also at the mining camp, and I saw he had an application form for the Philippine Military Academy.”
The rest is history. Ortiz, the boy who was born and raised in a mining camp, went on to become a soldier, receiving four Distinguished Service Stars, three Gold Cross Medals, four Bronze Cross Medals, four Military Merit Medals for Combat and 17 Military Merit Medals for Administration; the Cavalier Award for Outstanding Performance as a Military Professional in Army Operations, and most importantly, the Medal of Valor, the highest military award.