Jesalyn Abonates-Guingguing is the Tenement and Environment Manager of Agata Mining Ventures Inc. (AMVI), a nickel mine in the Philippines, and a registered Environmental Planner. Combining passion and purpose, and driven by her advocacy of environmental stewardship, she became a Director of the Board of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (Caraga Chapter) in 2018. Presently, she is President of the Caraga Association of Pollution Control Officers, which represents all industries, and is a pioneering officer of the Caraga Mine Environment Management Council. The achievement that she is most proud of is when she took steps to “create change in AMVI and make a difference by influencing top management to be more mindful of its ecological footprint and not just focused on increasing the value of its financial investment.” Her influence is recognized in AMVI’s massive coral relocation project to prevent the negative impact of siltation on corals, which is the first initiative of this kind in the Philippine mining industry. The project’s success was recognised when AMVI’s Mine Rehabilitation and Mine Ecotourism program received the 2018 Presidential Mineral Industry Environment Award (PMIEA), which is the highest award given by the government in the mining sector. Jesalyn grew up in the Province of Dinagat Island, Caraga Region, Philippines, along its beautiful coastline with pristine waters and adjacent verdant forests. She is happily married to Shaun Guingguing and blessed with two lovely children, Hanz Matthew (11 years old) and Princess Shjylhena Marie (7 years old). She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Environment Science from Mindanao State University in 2002 and a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from Caraga State University in 2010.
By Kathy Sole
I started my career as an environmentalist in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Philippines. I was part of the contractual government regulators that handle watershed management and environmental protection. Most mining operators are situated in the region where I am working. I was one of the anti-mining citizens who doubted the campaign about “Responsible Mining”. Being an environmentalist, I was hesitant of entering the mining sector due the fact that its nature is destructive to the environment. I had less information regarding laws and policies of our country pertaining to Environmental Compliance and Social Development that are required to be implemented by mining, but I had more information regarding the destructions it brought to the environment from campaigns by many anti-mining groups in our region. As I have become more acquainted with mining, my desire of knowing it has become stronger. It was my eagerness to know “What mining is” that brings me to the industry, fuelled by my desire to be more involved with rehabilitation initiatives, towards a purpose of putting back the natural state of the environment or enhancing it to become better than how it was found prior to mining. That desire was realized when I was referred to an exploration company by my former boyfriend, now my husband. Upon my entry to a Canadian mineral exploration company, I became more attracted to the vision of becoming an environmental envoy from the inside, looking in with experience, hence I decided to venture into my career in mining.
I am currently the Tenement and Environment Manager of Agata Mining Ventures Inc., a nickel mining company based in Caraga Region, Philippines. My role is to ensure that Environmental Protection and Compliance go along with the mining operation. I run the department that implements the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programs mandated by the government. I also head the Tenement group, which facilitates the acquisition and compliance of all mandated permits and licenses. I am part of the core group that manages the Integrated Management System, comprising the three major international standards on Environmental Management (ISO 14001: 2015), Quality Management( ISO 9001:2015), and Occupational Safety and Health (ISO 14001:2018), from which come the strategic integration of the company’s front-end operations, environmental management programs, social and community engagements, and health and safety initiatives.
My experience as a woman working in a male-dominated industry is truly challenging, one that involved emotional highs and lows and can be concluded as a roller-coaster ride. One of my significant jobs in the company is to collaborate with operations engineers during planning, project development, and implementation up to final rehabilitation and decommissioning of the disturbed areas. This interaction requires emotional strength, because I have to persuade them as I share technical ideas that are perceived to be weak (to male engineers) or using a woman’s touch that requires muscle from their kind. I felt I needed to be technically equipped, vocal, persistent, smart-looking, and strong in the eyes of the majority before my ideas could be heard or my contribution would be counted. I thought I needed to re-invent myself.
While the operations guys are busy attaining their targets of loading ores onto the vessel, I am looking at the soft side of the operation, making sure that the air we breathe is free from dust, the water is still clean, the plants could grow in mined-out areas, the environmental laws are strictly followed before and after the operation, and most importantly that the environment is being protected from long-term destruction—to the point where I was noted as being a hindrance to the mining development. The challenge of harmonizing environmental protection and mining development seemed to be impossible for me. I felt my task was harder to achieve because my kind is a minority in the organization.
Eventually, the obstacles I experienced while working in mining become a way for me to appreciate my hard-earned lesson, which is to compromise with my co-workers. I realized that, as a woman, I have unique characteristics and strength that I could use to influence people without re-inventing myself. As of today, I am happily working in a mining company with full trust and confidence that I can harmoniously make significant change in any field because I am Woman.
As an environmental person, I am passionate about creating ways on how environmental rehabilitation can be done in a mined-out area. Simple joys, such as making flowers bloom, taking good care of the marine sanctuary, growing trees, bringing back biodiversity, and adding aesthetic value to every land use after it has been disturbed, make me more inspired to change the face of mining.
I also love to work with people. It is my passion to be with a group of individuals who are passionate about taking care of the environment and promoting community development. Working with sectors like fishermen, farmers, youth, senior citizens, and women’s organizations are an enjoyable journey for me.
I could say I am lucky enough to find mentors in the person of my direct superiors, elders in the community, and my husband. I was able to share the same principles and virtues that helped me overcome the obstacles along the way. I was taught to share my gained knowledge to my subordinates as I was nurtured by them. Mentoring is a gift I received that I aimed to continue to pass on.
Right now, I no longer experience the same challenges I faced in the early stage of my career in mining. The new challenge is now more on producing successors, empowering young women who are starting their career in mining and currently struggling in their role in their respective work in the same way as I felt before.
Mining is an industry that offers opportunities for all walks of life. Not all jobs in mining require physical strength like operating heavy equipment and manoeuvring trucks: some men are also employed for jobs like planning, designing, and management, which require intellectual and technical capability—the kind of job that women can also perform.
With the aid of technology and improved systems in the field of mining, women like me do not need to adapt to fit with the industry, because I am already part of the system itself. It is more a need of continuous improvement and being open to devising creative ways to make everybody equally involved in all aspects of operations across all levels in the organization.
Mentoring is next on my list. I want to share the knowledge I gained in my experiences in mining. I want also to go beyond the borders of my own organization in advocating environmental stewardship: to influence other industries in campaigning that environmental protection and development can co-exist if there is a conscious choice of the actions to be done by starting everything right with the end in mind.
I wish I was told that, as a woman, I need to keep my emotions in check from time to time; that I should not be impulsive in making decisions that are out of my control; that as a woman, I can use my uniqueness to blend in this industry that is predominantly male.
I think the biggest mistake I made was that I became too “owning” in handling the difficulties in my career in mining. The environmental problems are too heavy to carry alone if you cannot get help from the people surrounding you. My passion of protecting the environment became my obstacle in finding solutions through the help of others. Meeting the best minds was so difficult because of my fear of being misunderstood as a woman or being out of their world. I realized, I became domineering over my male co-workers.
But I am happy I did that, because from that experience, I learned how to compromise. The hardships I experienced along the way helped me discover the important qualities of a woman; that being a woman, we have the kind of charm we can use to influence the people around us to share the belief and principle that we are campaigning about. Like a mother, we can express our concern in a way that is caring and gentle without hurting the ideas of others. As a woman, we can be a channel of unity as we can softly persuade other individuals with our tenderness.
I do believe that women in mining groups can help change the image of the industry. Our own story of commitment and dedication to make things possible amid adversities is a transformative act that can make a difference in mining. A lot of interesting things to be done in mining can be done by a woman. For me, mining is a social transformer, environmental enhancer, and a life changer. For women like me who are eager to overcome risks, find ways, face challenges, and transform obstacles to become the way, I can be more attracted to mining.
For young women starting out their careers in mining, I’d like them to be aware that our plans and how things turn out rarely resemble each other. It is therefore important to understand deeply the things that they can and cannot control in life. They must work hard on the things that they can control and learn to embrace and be resilient on the things that they cannot control. Self-entitlement will not get them far, but “working hard” will. So, they must strive to discover things on their own and refrain from being too dependent on the readily available solutions.
Back when I was 25 years old, I wish I’d know the virtues I needed in pursuing my passion. It is highly important as a woman that you keep your emotions and virtues in check from time to time. Emotional intelligence is equally important with intellectual intelligence, so it’s therefore important that you keep the balance between the two. Being too emotional in situations you are dealing with will blind you from the victory that is at hand. Overcoming hardships is a discipline of both emotional and intellectual intelligence. It begins on how we look at specific problems, our attitude or approach, and our energy and creativity in turning them into an opportunity. If I could have known this virtue back when I was 25 years old, I could have done more.
In my point of view, it is not about work-life balance but it is more of a balancing act. There are times when you have to prioritize things over others, depending on the weight of importance. As a mother and a wife working in mining, I learned the art of Time Management.
I’d like to recommend these three:
1. Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
2. 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
I am also currently reading various landscaping books.
I am a PADI-licensed scuba diver. I love to sing and play guitar. I read a lot during my pastimes and it is my joy to design gardens, plant flowers, and care for animals.