On October 5, two young women will be taking their oath before the Philippine Regulation Commission to become the country’s first Mindanao Muslim women licensed mining engineers.
Musarapa Insiang and Haiza Pigkaulan were both on their way home in Mindanao when the news broke that they were among the 57 Engineering graduates who had passed the board examination. Haiza ranked third among the top 10 examinees.
“My mother, who is working in the Middle East, heard about the results before I could tell her,” said Haiza, the eldest among six children. “Her co-workers and friends congratulated her, everyone was so excited.”
“We are not a demonstrative people, but my father hugged me tight when we found out the news while waiting for our ride to our home town. He was so proud,” recalls Musarapa.
Along with 11 other students from conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, the two women were able to complete their college degrees in Mining Engineering with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
All 13 mining engineering scholars supported by USAID passed the board examination.
Mining is a relatively unknown academic field in the Philippines, and the few colleges that offer the subject only produce about three dozen licensed mining engineers annually, while the rapidly expanding industry requires at least a hundred per year.
The two women met as students at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato. “There were only a handful of Maguindanaoan women students, so naturally we bonded,” said Haiza. When the area experienced heavy flooding, Musarapa took her in to share her room.
They decided to apply together for mining engineering scholarships offered by USAID through the GEM Program’s Workforce Preparation component, and were accepted.
“When I was in elementary school, we heard mostly negative things about mining,” said Haiza. “But in high school I saw for myself how mining companies can implement mitigating measures and rehabilitate mining areas, while providing development programs that help remote communities.”
“Mining does take an environmental toll, but there are ways of replenishing what has been taken away,” Musarapa said.
At Palawan State University, they encouraged each other to persevere in their mining engineering studies, particularly when they realized that they would be blazing trails as Mindanao Muslim women in a field traditionally dominated by men.
The pressure grew particularly intense as they reviewed for the board exam. “We both lost weight during the review, which coincided with Ramadan,” Haiza recalls. “I told Musarapa, we have to pass, grabe yung expectations [there are a lot of expectations] from our communities and from those who are supporting us.”
As full-fledged mining engineers, the two women look forward to helping develop the industry in their home region and working in socially and environmentally responsible mining companies.
“With proper government support and oversight, mining can bring about economic development. It can create opportunities and jobs, not just in the mining companies,” said Haiza. “I hope to work with a technical team and gain experience in all aspects of mining operations.”
DREAMING OF SELF-RELIANT MINING COMMUNITIES
She pointed out that, by law, all mining companies must implement a Social Development Mining Plan (SDMP) that provides host community development assistance using funds collected through the companies’ reported direct mining and milling costs. The aim of the SDMP is to ensure sustainable, people-empowering and self-reliant mining communities.
“I would like to work with communities and other stakeholders on their SDMP to broaden their expectations of how it can work for them. It can create opportunities and help the community achieve its goals,” said Musarapa, who like Haiza, had taken courses in environmental science and mining law, in addition to technical engineering subjects.
Haiza grew up in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, which she describes as a quiet, remote valley where Muslims, Christians and lumad [indigenous peoples] now co-exist peacefully, after some turbulent decades.
To support the family, her mother had been working abroad for ten years. “I was in grade five when she left, and she returned to the Philippines only twice all this time. Her last visit was when I graduated in March of this year,” Haiza said.
Once she finds steady employment as a mining professional, Haiza says, “I would like my mother to return to the Philippines so that she can rest and take care of my brothers and sisters.”
Musarapa grew up in rural Datu Paglas, Maguindanao. She recalls that, as in other conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, the community had gone through hard times in the 1990s, when there was intermittent fighting.
“When we were smaller, there were times when we went hungry,” she said. “But now it’s a peaceful place. And as my father told me, poverty should not hinder us from succeeding.”
The news of Musarapa’s passing the board exam spread like wildfire through the town. “I was amazed when it was announced by Mayor Datu Mohamad Paglas at a meeting of councilors and barangay captains,” she said.
She says that the process of her becoming a mining engineer was already motivating others. Two of her younger siblings plan on becoming geologists and mining engineers themselves, and “cousins who hadn’t finished schooling want to do so now,” said Musarapa.
By USAID’s GEM Program