Aussie mining firm moves into N. Vizcaya’s citrus watershed
SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya — An Australian mining firm has begun moves to conduct exploration activities within the watershed areas of the province’s biggest citrus-producing villages in Kasibu town, drawing concerns from local farmers and environmentalists.
Geologists from the Australasian Philippines Mining Inc. (Apmi) presented its expansion program and the proposed exploration activities in the ore-rich areas of the upland village of Papaya in Kasibu during a meeting with residents there on Thursday last week.
Apmi holds the mining rights over more than 21,000 hectares of land in Kasibu that had been granted to Climax Arimco Mining Corp., its parent company, through a financial and/or technical assistance agreement (FTAA) with the government in 1994.
Officials of the Malabing Valley Multipurpose Cooperative Inc. (MVMPCI), an organization of more than 600 citrus farmers in Kasibu and its neighboring towns, said they have begun talks with civil society groups to come up with a “coordinated move” to stop any attempt to conduct mining-related activities in Papaya.
The MVMPCI has been at the forefront of efforts to protect the thriving fruit industry there that, its records showed, produces about nine million kilograms of citrus fruits a year.
The village of Papaya, which straddles the Palali-Mamparang Range, is host to watershed forests that feed the Alimudin, Malong and Pahduan rivers, main sources of irrigation for about 150,000 fruit trees in Malabing Valley.
“The company is in for a challenge because whatever difficulties it has faced in Didipio, we will do the same in Papaya, or even greater,” said Astrid Puguon, MVMPCI board secretary.
A report that Apmi published in 2006 said the $80 million Dinkidi project in Barangay (village) Didipio aims to mine gold and copper reserves of the area for a minimum period of 15 years, with an expected output of two million tons of gold-copper ore yearly.
Puguon said Apmi was now trying to enter Papaya as a fallback, after its supposed failure to start actual mining operations in Didipio, which should have started in the first quarter of this year.
Despite obtaining an approval of its feasibility from the government, Apmi has failed to speed up its preparations for the Didipio gold-copper project due to resistance from local communities, Puguon said.
An estimated 70 anti-mining residents whose lands, totalling about 90 hectares, lie within the 325-hectare area that the company is eyeing as its main production area have refused to sell their lands, amid threats of the filing of criminal charges from environment officials for alleged illegal occupancy of a forest zone.
Earlier, the Didipio village council and Kasibu town council have denied Apmi’s request for an endorsement of its project, which is required under the Local Government Code of 1991.
An Apmi official confirmed the company’s move to expand operations in Papaya, but denied it was lagging in its preparations for Didipio project.
“We do have a commitment to the government to explore areas in the FTAA and Papaya is one of them,” said Ramoncito Gozar, Apmi manager for central liaison.
He said the company met with Papaya residents to explain the purposes and the activities to be undertaken during the planned exploration.
He, however, did not comment on concerns raised by citrus farmers that Papaya is within a watershed area.