Fea­ture: Min­ing, Min­danao and Manny Pac­quiao

Think your earth­mov­ing job is hard? Grab a beer as Ron ‘Rambo’ Horner tells the story of a Philip­pines pipe­line job in rebel ter­ri­tory, and how he tried to meet boxer Manny Pac­quiao

Earthmovers & Excavators - - News -

Last month’s Bris­bane box­ing match be­tween our own Jeff Horn and the Filipino god Manny Pac­quiao re­minded me of a pe­riod of my “life with­out a wife” and some of the predica­ments we can get our­selves into while work­ing in this won­der­ful in­dus­try of con­struc­tion, min­ing and earth­mov­ing.

Back in 2009 I headed to the Philip­pines for a short stint – or two – to se­cure a pipe­line ease­ment in the lovely South­east Asian is­land of Min­danao, one of the 7000 is­lands which make up the Philip­pines.

Ar­riv­ing in Gen­eral San­tos City – or Gen San to the lo­cals – I was as­signed a body­guard in the form of ‘Ernie’, a no-non­sense bloke who was best mates with Manny Pac­quiao and served as his trav­el­ling body­guard.

In case you’ve been liv­ing un­der a rock, Pac­quiao is the Tom Raudonikis of box­ing and is claimed to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in his­tory.

His ca­reer, in which he has claimed 11 ma­jor world ti­tles, has net­ted him earn­ings of over $1.2 bil­lion and placed him as the sec­ond-high­est paid ath­lete in the world in 2015.

Pac­quiao is a long-serv­ing lo­cal and fed­eral Filipino politi­cian who served the lo­cal Min­danao and Gen San peo­ple for many years. He is also cur­rently a Philip­pines Se­na­tor, which ac­tu­ally makes him The Hon­or­able Manny Pac­quiao.

He also served as a mil­i­tary re­servist and reached the rank of Lieu­tenant Colonel.

Ernie and I called into Pac­quiao’s home just out­side of Gen San on sev­eral oc­ca­sions as Ernie was keen for us to meet.


The whole saga started when I re­ceived an en­quiry from an over­seas con­sult­ing firm on the look­out for a per­son will­ing to take the trip to Min­danao.

Hav­ing never vis­ited the Philip­pines be­fore and not hav­ing that much on, I de­cided to put my hand up and have a crack.

There must not have been much in­ter­est from any­one else in the world as I got the bloody job!

The nor­mal over­seas post­ing rit­u­als of pass­port, med­i­cals and in­jec­tions were quickly ex­e­cuted, but as there was a covert na­ture to the trip, my itin­er­ary was left up in the air.

I was told to be ready for a phone call at any time and to be free to ac­cess Bris­bane Air­port with two hours’ no­tice.

The phone call ar­rived and I found my­self at the Sin­ga­pore Air­lines book­ing counter be­ing handed an en­ve­lope con­tain­ing first-class re­turn tick­ets to Sin­ga­pore.

I also re­ceived strict in­struc­tions out­lin­ing the covert na­ture of the ap­point­ment, with a no­com­mu­ni­ca­tion clause and in­struc­tions to meet a cer­tain per­son at Sin­ga­pore’s Changi Air­port who would ad­vise me of the next stage of my trip – to the Philip­pines cap­i­tal of Manila.

I ad­mit I felt a bit strange but this all added to the ex­cite­ment.

Body­guards and se­cu­rity were with me af­ter the plane hit Manila’s tar­mac and be­fore my flight to Gen San.

I won­dered if I was re­ally ready for what could lay ahead … af­ter all, I was a sin­gle par­ent with kids still at home. So it was with some trep­i­da­tion that I sucked it up and started to re­flect on just what I had got­ten my­self in for.

Gen San was about as far as you could get from the bright lights city of Manila.

It was still a bustling, busy place, but with­out the flashy ho­tels and malls it was a far cry from the north­ern cap­i­tal.

I was greeted by a stocky, mus­cu­lar, nonon­sense sort of guy who in­tro­duced him­self as Ernie, say­ing: “I am your per­sonal body­guard and I will be with you 24/7 while you are here.”

Now that was not what I was ex­pect­ing, and if I had any doubt in my mind be­fore­hand, I cer­tainly had some doubts creep into my mind af­ter this in­tro­duc­tion.

Af­ter a trip down­town to the mine of­fice, a quick in­duc­tion, a meet-and-greet and a hand-over of doc­u­men­ta­tion on our ob­jec­tives, Ernie had me whisked away to the East Asia Royale Ho­tel.

True to his word, Ernie ac­com­pa­nied me ev­ery­where, though our free ac­cess was ex­tremely lim­ited.

As Ernie and I got talk­ing, I re­alised that the se­cu­rity for Western­ers was a top pri­or­ity due to the fact that the rebel fac­tions who have caused so much grief in Min­danao for so many years were known to kid­nap for­eign­ers (es­pe­cially mine work­ers) and de­mand pretty huge ran­soms for their re­lease.

Killings were, and are, also fre­quent, and as we had to head into rebel ter­ri­tory in the jun­gle it was im­per­a­tive that the mine pro­vided the ut­most level of se­cu­rity to its per­son­nel.


I sup­pose break­fast the next morn­ing was when it hit me. The friendly staff at the ho­tel restau­rant en­quired what I was do­ing in Gen­eral San­tos and when I told them I was head­ing up to Kim­lawis and Tam­pakan I was met with a look of hor­ror and dis­be­lief.

“Don’t go there,” they said. “It is very, very dan­ger­ous … please don’t go!”

Ernie quickly in­ter­jected by not­ing that he was my per­sonal body­guard and that our driver was also armed. It was at this point of no re­turn that I re­alised that I was en­ter­ing into some­thing to­tally for­eign to me. No won­der I got the job!

On our re­turn trip the next day we found out that the rebels had at­tacked one of the drilling rigs and killed a Dutch ge­ol­o­gist while los­ing a cou­ple of their own lives

Once in the 4WD I could not help but no­tice the smell of fresh gun oil with a hint of gun­pow­der. I wasn’t sure if the smell came from the M16 or one of the sev­eral hand­guns that shared the back seat with me. I was used to the smell from my pro­fes­sional roo shoot­ing days, but the cir­cum­stances were very dif­fer­ent.

Our ob­jec­tive was to in­spect sev­eral pro­posed con­cen­trate pipe­line routes which tra­versed the jun­gle from the mine site, either to Malalag Bay on one side of the is­land or to Sarangani Bay at Gen San on the other.

It was about 150km in all, but to achieve this we had to tra­verse rebel ter­ri­tory in some un­for­giv­ing jun­gles in a for­eign coun­try in which I could not speak the na­tive lan­guage.

Ernie was go­ing to have a best friend be­side him whether he liked it or not.


The first day was a clas­sic in­tro­duc­tion to the job. Driv­ing deeper into the jun­gle, we came across a con­tracted drilling crew work­ing on some ex­ploratory drilling for the mine. Se­cu­rity guards sur­rounded the site as we made a quick stopover be­fore head­ing off deeper into the jun­gle.

Af­ter trav­el­ling a few kilo­me­tres, we heard sev­eral shots be­ing fired and Ernie threw me to the floor as our driver took eva­sive ac­tion to clear the area. Not know­ing where the shots came from, we made it into an­other very ba­sic mine bush camp which was used by lo­cal mil­i­tary re­servist vol­un­teers who were en­gaged as backup and se­cu­rity by the mine.

The rebels were non-for­giv­ing with the lo­cals. They would take wealthy Filipinos as hostages and had no prob­lem in shoot­ing the rest – should it come to that. The con­voys were al­ways an easy tar­get.

On our re­turn trip the next day we found out that the rebels had at­tacked one of the drilling rigs and killed a Dutch ge­ol­o­gist while los­ing a cou­ple of their own lives.

It was at this point that I told Ernie I needed my own weapon.

“That is not pos­si­ble, Ron … we can’t give weapons to un­trained per­son­nel,” Ernie said, much to my dis­ap­proval.

That af­ter­noon in an­other part of the jun­gle there were more shots fired nearby but not di­rected at us. Ernie and our driver forced us into the jun­gle un­der­growth with weapons cocked, wait­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Noth­ing even­tu­ated so we de­cided to have a cuppa (well, I did any­way). Ernie had parked his M16 up against the 4WD so I de­cided to show him how ‘un­trained’ I was with weapons by dis­man­tling it while he was oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied.

He wasn’t happy when he re­turned, but it did con­vince him I was fa­mil­iar enough with weapons to have my own weapon.

That night I was able to se­cure my own M16 and a Colt .45 and, if I may say so, it felt bloody good and I car­ried them with me every bloody day. Dur­ing that pe­riod of my Philip­pines post­ing, 22 peo­ple were killed in that re­gion.

I felt for­tu­nate to meet so many lovely peo­ple, to ex­pe­ri­ence the dif­fi­cul­ties suf­fered by oth­ers in an in­dus­try we take for granted and to re­alise how we sel­dom ap­pre­ci­ate the sta­ble and safe so­ci­ety and safety in which we live.

Ernie and I con­tin­ued for two stints as part­ners on that job. We be­came very good friends and he in­tro­duced me to some of his dear­est friends.

And Manny Pac­quiao? As much as we tried, I never got to meet him!

1. These guys needed dan­ger pay 2. Part of the happy pipe­line crew in rebel-held ter­ri­tory 3. Ron and his body­guard Ernie, on loan from Manny Pac­quiao


4. Ron Horner on a quiet pipe­line job in the Philip­pines 5. A few of the Filipino guards with shot­guns in hand 4

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