Mining firm repulsed

Tribal folk block mining firm’s entry in N. Vizcaya

BAMBANG, Nueva Vizcaya–Members of tribal communities from three upland villages in Kasibu town on Saturday fortified barricades to prevent the entry of equipment and building materials that were to be used for an Australian firm’s exploration activities in the area.

About 80 villagers, composed of bolo-wielding local officials and menfolk, have blocked the road leading to a mine site in remote Pao village, and vowed to stop the operations of Oxiana Philippines, Inc.

“We just want to show proof that mining in our village is not acceptable to our people, contrary to what the company and some quarters in the government are claiming,” Mariano Maddela, village chief of Pao, said in the dialect.

Since July 12, groups of about 25 men have reportedly been holding shifts in guarding the road entrance leading to the site in Pao, which is part of 5,873-hectare area covered by an exploration permit granted to Oxiana.

The exploration site, which straddles the Mamparang mountain range, is within an ancestral land applied for by the Bugkalot of eastern Nueva Vizcaya.

“They can use force against us, but we will stand our ground,” said Maddela, a Bugkalot.

Volunteers from the Dapon Indigenous Peoples Center, Inc., a non-government organization, said the group expressed ire over the attempted entry of the company’s drilling equipment and building materials into the site, despite the resistance from the community.

The protesting villagers from barangays Pao, Paquet and Kakidugen have been contesting authenticity of the certification of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), which the company used in obtaining a permit from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

They said the FPIC was “fraudulently issued” by “bogus” tribal members, some of them allegedly coming from Keat village in Nagtipunan, Quirino.

The FPIC certification, a copy of which was obtained by this writer, stated that 14 of the signatories were set to receive P4,000 monthly as Oxiana’s “liaison officers” while 19 others were to get P3,000 a month.

“The fact that this supposed employment was being offered as a sort of reward for the signatories betrays the very essence of why FPIC is being required,” said Bernabe Almirol, Dapon convenor.

MGB records indicated that Oxiana’s permit expired on Saturday, ending the four-month extension from March 17, 2007, the original expiry date.

Oxiana officials could not be reached for comment.

But engineer Jerrysal Mangaoang, MGB director for Cagayan Valley, said he has granted a 20-month extension of the company’s permit, due to “force majeure”.

The mining official was referring to a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), due to questions on the alleged lack of the needed FPIC from affected tribal communities.

He said the number of villagers barricading in Pao was “negligible”.

Mangaoang defended the company, saying the FPIC was validly granted by indigenous groups in the area.

“Also, the barricaders are not from Pao or Kakidugen. (To say that the FPIC was fraudulently given) is unfair for the indigenous groups who gave their consent,” he said.

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