Tribes get bolder

TRIBES’ PEOPLE POWER

Court order won’t stop tribes’ fight vs mining firm

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–Opposition against the planned mining exploration in a village continued to grow as tribal residents from six villages here trooped to the site of a road blockade to prevent the entry of a mining firm in their community.

On Wednesday, more than 400 villagers belonging to different tribes here stood guard at the road entrance to Pao village here, despite a court order that prohibited their leaders from blocking the passage of equipment and construction materials of Oxiana Phils. Inc. (OPI) to the site of exploration.

Villagers, who declined to be named for fear of being cited in contempt by the court, said more people proceeded to the barricade site upon learning that their three village chiefs and 22 others have been barred by the court from joining the road blockade.

For the second week, men, women and teenagers set up makeshift tents on top of a ridge, surrounding a boom laid across the road, and was raised and lowered every time vehicles passed by. A wooden sign was nailed to the boom that said: “No to exploration; No to mining”.

The protesters would swarm towards the barricade whenever they heard the engine of an ascending vehicle. They would however, return to their posts after they are signaled that the vehicle is not from OPI.

“We are not here to sow violence, but only to voice our sentiments that we do not want mining in our community,” an Ibaloi farmer said in the dialect.

Since Monday’s issuance of the TRO, however, no one from among the 22 respondents have since showed up at the barricade site, it was learned.

“We were told that policemen would handcuff us immediately if one of us showed up at the site,” said Benito Cudiam, one of the respondents.

Acting on the complaint of OPI, Judge Jose Godofredo Naui of the Regional Trial Court branch 37 on Monday issued a 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against 22 respondents, who were identified in the complaint as having led the road blockade since July 12.

Unfazed

Tension here grew when villagers saw a team of troops from the local police and the provincial mobile group arrived at the area on Wednesday afternoon and set up camp in one of the houses in Paquet, about 200 meters from the barricade site.

But the villagers, composed of Bugkalot, Ibaloi, Kalanguya and Ifugao farmers, said they will block the entry of the company “whatever the consequences may be.”

“We are not violent people. We just want to be respected. If violence will erupt, you can be assured that it did not start from our group,” another Bugkalot farmer from Pao added.

“We do not want the promise of a better life that the mining company is using to convince us. We do not want to lose the fertile lands that we till (because) it is the only wealth that we have,” said another vegetable farmer from Kakiduguen.

The villagers and other environment groups have been questioning the issuance of the company’s exploration permit, which, documents showed, was given in 2003 and was never renewed but was extended twice for a total period of about four additional years.

The Mining Act of 1995 states that exploration permits shall only last for two years, and shall be allowed to three renewals.

They also assailed the company for supposedly failing to disclose that OPI has been sold to Royalco Resources Limited, an Australian firm, in June 2006.

This writer tried to reach Lourdes Dolinen, OPI representative, but she declined to give comment. In an earlier interview, however, she laughed off allegations that OPI no longer existed as a legitimate company.

Engineer Jerrysal Mangaoang, Cagayan Valley director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, said he granted the extension periods to the company due to its failure to previously use the permit because of “force majeure”.

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