Tribes slam granting of exploration permit to ‘bogus’ firm
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Tribal leaders and environment groups on Monday assailed the alleged anomalous issuance of a permit to a foreign company that is aiming to conduct mining exploration activities in several villages in upland Kasibu town, about 40 km from here.
Kalanguya, Ifugao and Bugkalot villagers from Pao, Paquet, Kakiduguen, and Dine villages in Kasibu condemned the alleged deceit committed by Oxiana Philippines, Inc. (OPI), an Australian-owned company, which, documents showed, no longer existed.
The group, led by their village chiefs, aired their dismay after they were shown documents stating that OPI was granted another 20-month extension of its exploration permit by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
“How come that a company that was already sold and no longer existed was given a new extension of its permit that already expired? This is really revolting,” said Felimon Blanco, Paquet village chief.
Since July 12, Blanco, together with village chiefs Mariano Maddela and Alejo Tuguinay of Pao and Kakidugen, respectively, have led their people in barricading the road in Pao to prevent the entry of OPI’s equipment and construction materials into the site.
The villagers have been questioning the 20-month extension granted to OPI’s exploration permit, covering June 28, 2007 to February 27, 2009. The permit was originally issued on June 2, 2003, government records showed.
They said they will never allow the entry of mining into their villages, preferring vegetable farming and agro-forestry as a “more sustainable, yet less destructive” source of livelihood.
Volunteers from the Dapon Indigenous People’s Center, Inc., citing official company documents, revealed that OPI was sold on June 20, 2006 to Royalco Resources Limited, also an Australian firm.
In its 2006 half-year report, Oxiana Limited declared that it has disposed of OPI, its Philippine subsidiary, to Royalco Resources Limited, an entity listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
Royalco bought OPI in exchange for 10 million corporate shares, generating a net profit of US$3.17 million for the Oxiana Group, the document said.
“Oxiana Philippines Inc. constituted a separate geographical segment of the Oxiana Group’s operations. The sale of this geographical segment of the consolidated entity’s operations has been reported in this financial report as a discontinued operation,” the report added.
The online company search of the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that OPI was not registered with the government, according to Bernabe Almirol, a convenor of Dapon.
But the group suffered a setback on Monday after Judge Jose Godofredo Naui of Regional Trial Court branch 37 granted OPI’s plea and issued a 20-day temporary restraining order that prohibited 22 villagers identified in the complaint from setting up the blockade at the road leading to the exploration site in Pao.
The judge ruled not accept as evidence the OPI documents, as these were downloaded from the internet and were supposedly not authenticated.
Sought for comment, Lourdes Dolinen, OPI representative, denied the allegations, and maintained that their company is legitimate.
“How can we conduct all these activities when we do not have the support of the company? Where do you think do the funds for our operations and salaries come from?” she asked.
Lawyer Virgil Castro, counsel for OPI, said they will come out with the documents proving the legitimacy of the company in the next hearing of the injunction suit.
MGB officials were at a quandary whether or not OPI continued to exist as a legitimate company.
“I am not sure about the mode of transfer (of mining rights) but what I know is that (OPI) has been absorbed by Royalco. As far as our office is concerned, we are dealing with Oxiana,” said Jerrysal Mangaoang, MGB regional director for Cagayan Valley.