Danger signs

NPA wooing anti-mining folk, says PNP

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The New People’s Army in Cagayan Valley has been busy recruiting into the rebel movement tribal folk in upland Kasibu town who are waging opposition to planned large-scale mining activities in the area, police officials here said.

Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, said the NPA movement in the area is expected to take advantage of the disgruntlement of Kasibu residents over the mining controversy confronting the tribal communities there.

“We just hope the people there will not give in, because that would complicate matters,” Duran said, specifically referring to the unresolved standoff between workers of Oxiana Philippines, Inc. (OPI) and villagers who have been barricading the road in Paquet village in Kasibu.

Since July 12, tribal men and women from Pao, Paquet, Kakidugen, Dine, Cataraoan and Biyoy villages have been blocking the mountain road leading to OPI’s exploration site in Pao, preventing the company from transporting construction materials and drilling equipment to the area.

On Friday, an estimated 1,000 tribal folk refused to heed a court order that prohibited them from blocking the entry of a service vehicle hired by OPI.

They earlier expressed disgust over the supposed insistence of the national government in helping foreign mining companies to push the revival of mining, despite the locals’ opposition.

The group said the extension of the period of OPI’s exploration permit was irregular, and that no honest-to-goodness consultation was done with the affected communities.

Duran said intelligence reports indicate a heightened activity of the NPA’s contingent operating in the hinterlands of the Sierra Madre, citing the frequent rebel sightings in areas in Kasibu where villagers .

He cited the Aug. 22 gunbattle between suspected NPA rebels and government troopers from the Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion in Nagtipunan town in Quirino, near the town’s border with Kasibu.

An unidentified rebel was injured in the clash, and Army soldiers recovered a 5.56-mm Ultimax 100 light machine gun from fleeing rebels, Duran said.

Sources in Paquet, however, debunked the police official’s statement, saying the report on the NPA’s supposed intensified activities is only meant to justify the government’s militarization of the area.

“Those (claims) are not true. We have not seen a single NPA (rebel) since we set up the barricade here,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the police and military.

Asked for comment, Duran said: “The NPA is a threat to national security. Addressing the threat is what is called protection of state interest.”

People power vs mining

1,000 villagers turn back Australian firm

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—For the second time in six weeks, villagers in upland Kasibu town succeeded on Friday in repulsing a foreign mining firm which was trying to enter the area and conduct exploration activities.

About 1,000 villagers forced a company truck to back off, stopping this from moving forward as it reached the barricade site in Paquet village, according to Benito Cudiam, a tribal leader.

“It was a hair-raising experience. The people sat in the middle of the road, just waiting for the truck to reach them. They showed the company how determined they were in preventing its entry,” Cudiam said.

At about midnight Friday, workers of Oxiana Philippines Inc., (OPI) an Australian firm, decided to turn back instead, when Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban intervened.

A rented bulldozer that company workers placed on standby and was supposed to be used for the opening of a new road leading to the exploration site, was never used, the villagers said.

As the day’s events unfolded, representatives from Church groups and nongovernment organizations held vigil at the site.

“For hours, tension was high in the area. We were so worried about what would happen after negotiations failed,” said Sister Maria Eden Orlino, directress of the Diocesan Social Action Commission.

This writer on Saturday sought Joey Nelson Ayson, OPI country director, and Jerrysal Mangaoang, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Cagayan Valley, but they declined to give any comment.

Members of Bugkalot, Ifugao and Kalanguya tribes from Pao, Paquet, Dine, Kakidugen and Cataraoan villages have been preventing the entry of OPI equipment to show their opposition to the company’s planned mining exploration.

Friday evening’s face-off was OPI’s second failed attempt to enter the site, which the villagers have been barricading for the past six weeks.

They said the government extended OPI’s expired permit without conducting an honest-to-goodness consultation with affected tribal communities.

For almost an entire day on Friday, lawyer Voltaire Garcia, provincial sheriff, held a dialogue with OPI workers and tribal leaders to avert a violent confrontation between villagers and about 50 policemen.

Garcia was in Pao to implement an injunction order issued by Judge Jose Godofredo Naui of the Regional Trial Court branch 37 here, based on a suit filed by OPI when the villagers began barricading the road July 12.

But negotiations bogged down at around 5 p.m. Then, OPI workers began to move their vehicle towards the crowd and removed the obstacles that the villagers had placed on the road.

“(The OPI employees) removed the barbed fence, and tried to drive up the mountain road towards the barricade with hundreds of people there waiting. This was done apparently to test the determination of the people,” said Merly Calubaquib, provincial manager of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), a non-government organization.

Due to the defiance shown by the protesters, the provincial sheriff has no other recourse but to file contempt charges against the barricading villagers, Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, who was with Garcia.

Calls for calm

Church, NGO leaders move to prevent mining bloodshed

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Leaders of the Catholic Church and non-government organizations have stepped into a broiling mining controversy in upland Kasibu town here involving tribal folk who have been blocking the entry of a foreign mining firm into the village.

They have raised concerns over a possible face-off between 1,000 villagers and 50 policemen involving the implementation of a court order that allows the entry of equipment to be used by Oxiana Philippines Inc., an Australian firm.

On Friday, provincial sheriff Voltaire Garcia and Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, travelled to the site to implement the injunction order, which prohibits villagers from further barricading the road leading to the exploration site in Pao Village.

Hear no evil

In a statement, Bishop Ramon Villena assailed Oxiana for refusing to listen to the sentiments of the oppositors who have been barricading the road since July 12.

“Yes, Oxiana claims they have in their possession legal instruments that would legitimize their entry to Pao. But what about the voice of the people? Will we close our ears to their cry and continue with the mining activities in utter disregard of their voice?” Villena said in a statement.

From 300 in the last few days, the number of protesters has grown to about 1,000, mostly tribal villagers from Pao, Paquet, Kakidugen, Biyoy, Cataraoan, Camamasi and Dine who continued to guard the barricade after learning of the court’s issuance of an injunction order.

Their leaders, who asked not to be named for fear of being cited in contempt of the court, said they would continue to block the road because it traverses a private land, the owner of which was opposed to mining.

Contempt fear

“If it becomes necessary that we will go back to our headhunting practices, then so be it,” a Bugkalot chieftain said in the dialect.

The villagers, composed of Bugkalot, Kalanguya and Ifugao, have been opposing the entry of Oxiana, citing possible hazards that its operations would bring to their environment.

They have also been questioning Oxiana’s exploration permit issued in 2000, the period of which was extended without consultation with the affected local communities.

This writer tried but failed to reach for comment Joey Nelson Ayson, Oxiana country manager, and Lourdes Dolinen, liaison officer. They did not respond to requests for interview sent through their mobile phones.

Environment NGOs, including Alyansa Tigil Mina and Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE), also joined the bishop’s call for government agencies to pave the way for a peaceful settlement of the standoff in Pao.

Tribal rights

“We call on government to heed the call of indigenous communities living in the area to respect their beliefs, culture and way of life,” said Merly Calubaquib, provincial manager of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.

“Oxiana is riding roughshod over the residents because government is turning a blind eye on the IP’s legitimate grievances,” she said.

But as the company, with the help of government, showed determination to enter the area through force, villagers continued to fortify their positions, sources said.

Lucas Buay, an Ifugao and chair of the Council of Leaders of the Kasibu Inter-tribal Response Towards Ecological Development (Kired), said two barricades have been set up in Paquet Village.

The group also fenced off the private lots that OPI wants to use as access, while others have also started planting vegetables in the surrounding areas, to support the villagers’ food needs in the event of long-drawn standoff.

Religious services have also been held regularly at the barricade site, which were being officiated by local pastor Lito Manaic, Buay said.

Sympathetic groups from the province’s lowland towns, entry points for the company’s loads of equipment, have been closely monitoring the movements of Oxiana, and relay these to the barricaders, the Ifugao leader said.

Ronald Gregorio of Legal Rights Center for Luzon, also an NGO, called on the provincial and local leaders “to listen to (their) constituents’ pleas and desist from forcibly dispersing the human barricade now ongoing at Kasibu.”

“We fear for the safety of the communities who are peacefully assembling and merely exercising a legitimate right to protest,” he said.

Still ‘beautiful’

Campbells see the beauty that lured Julia to her death

LAGAWE, Ifugao–This province may be the site of the gruesome killing of US Peace Corps Julia Campbell, but her mother and sister were filled with admiration for its natural beauty.

Speaking with reporters after the court trial on Wednesday, Linda Campbell and Geary Morris said they considered Ifugao, including Banaue town, as beautiful places.

“We hope to be back in the future to see these wonderful places in Ifugao,” said Linda, 65.

The elder Campbell concluded her testimony as the prosecution’s first witness on Wednesday morning, describing in open court how Julia was, as a daughter, as a volunteer worker and as a sister to her siblings, and recounted the family’s grief over her loss.

Julia was killed at around dusk on April 8 while she was on a solo trek to Batad village in Banaue, about 30 kilometers from here, the site of the world-famous Batad rice terraces.

During their two-day visit to Ifugao for the trial, mother and daughter finally saw part of what Julia came to see before she met her death allegedly at the hands of Batad native Juan Donald Duntugan, the primary suspect in the killing.

Duntugan admitted to having killed Julia, but maintained that it was done in blind rage after he mistook her for a village bully and his long-time enemy.

From their room at the View Inn Hotel at Banaue town proper, Linda and Geary said they caught a glimpse of patches of Banaue’s famed terraces.

In her court testimony, Linda said she and Julia had planned to come to Banaue during the mother’s visit to the Philippines in August 2006.

The plan, however, did not push through. Julia came alone to Ifugao during the last Lenten break.

In an interview with reporters, Campbell thanked persons who have helped them, especially their Filipino lawyers who, they said, have been doing their best in the family’s pursuit of justice for Julia.

They maintained that murder was committed in Julia’s death.

Prosecution lawyers presented their second witness, Melvin Chorhangon, the 14-year old boy from Batad whose statement led police investigators to tag woodcarver Duntugan as a suspect in the killing.

According to Chorhangon, he saw Duntugan emerge from the bushy side of a cliff — where the body was found — as the boy was walking along the mountain trail leading to Batad in the morning of April 9.

During the cross-examination by defense lawyer Pedro Mayam-o, Chorhangon admitted, however, that he did not personally see the killing, and that he learned of the killing only through television newscasts.

Grief of a mother

Campbell’s mom recalls her in testimony

LAGAWE, Ifugao–Linda Campbell occasionally smiled, then tried to hold back the tears as she described her daughter Julia and how she had given up a promising career in journalism in the United States to come to the Philippines as a peace corps volunteer.

Campbell of Fairfax, Virginia, was the first witness presented by the prosecution at the start of the trial Tuesday of a young woodcarver accused of bludgeoning her 40-year-old daughter to death on April 8 as she hiked down a ridge to view the famed Banaue rice terraces. Her body was found on April 18 in a shallow hillside grave near Batad.

The suspect, 25-year-old Juan Donald Duntugan, listened intently but showed no emotion.

Julia’s elder sister, Geary Campbell-Morris, 42, took a seat in the front row and sobbed as her mother detailed in her 45-minute testimony how she and her family were devastated by the loss of Julia.

“It was like someone had ripped my heart,” said Linda, describing how she felt the day she got the news.

If not for her death, Linda said Julia would have taken up a scholarship at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

Aside from her Geary, Linda was accompanied to court by Carl Beck, director of the Peace Corps in the Philippines, and US Embassy officials.

Judge Esther Piscoso-Flor of the regional trial court here earlier heard Duntugan’s plea of “not guilty” to the murder charge after the prosecution declined his offer, presented by defense lawyer Pedro Mayam-o, to plead guilty to the lesser offense of homicide.

Duntugan surrendered 10 days after Julia’s body was found near his upland home and reportedly told police he had killed her in a fit of rage after he thought she was a bully in his village.

Linda said she learned on April 11 that her daughter had been missing since April 8. Then, shortly before midnight on April 18, Geary received a phone call from Jon Sanders of the US Peace Corps in Washington D.C. relaying the news of Julia’s death.

Her husband, William Jr., was stunned, Linda said.

“Then, (the entire family) gathered upstairs. We cried, we hugged and prayed,” she said. “My whole being was affected. I could not sleep, I could not concentrate [on what I was doing].”

Lawyer Reynaldo Agranzamendez, lead counsel for the prosecution, said he called on Linda to testify to show the gravity of the family’s loss and how they suffered as a result of Julia’s death should the court require Duntugan to indemnify them.

Linda said she takes heart in remembering how her daughter was loved by the people she served in Albay. The children called her “Ate Julia” or “Mommy Julia,” she said.

‘Back off, Aussies!’

Tribal folk tell Aussie firm: We don’t need mining

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–More than 200 residents of a tribal community in Kasibu town have expressed opposition to the entry of a foreign mining company in their village, which aims to start exploration activities there.

In a signed petition, villagers of Papaya aired their objection to the issuance of a mining permit to OceanaGold Philippines Exploration Corp. (OGPEC), a 100-percent Australian company, which aims to expand its exploration activities in the area.

OGPEC is a transferee of the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) that was entered into in 1994 by the Philippine government and Climax-Arimco Mining Corp, also an Australian firm.

Under the Philippine Mining Act, an FTAA is a contract, wherein the government allows mining companies, with up to 100-percent foreign ownership, to stage large-scale exploration and development of the country’s minerals.

“We express our decision not to allow the exploration of (OGPEC) and deny the permit it has been asking,” the petition, written in the dialect, read in part.

The villagers, composed of Ifugao, Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Bugkalot farmers, said they no longer needed the material gains being promised by the mining company as they already have the citrus industry as the “more sustainable” source of livelihood.

“Moreover, the exploration area is within the sub-villages of Ubon, Alumadin and Malong, which was declared through a barangay ordinance as a watershed area. This ordinance was approved by the (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” the petitioners said.

Under such ordinance, any mining-related activity is prohibited within that area, the villagers added.

Aside from Papaya, the company has likewise failed to start actual mining operations for gold and copper in nearby Didipio village due to resistance from farmers who have refused to sell their lands that were to be occupied by the mining project.

Sought for comment, Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold’s associate director for communications and external affairs, said village chief Avelino Puguon has already signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with OGPEC.

Gozar said under the MOA, the barangay development council–not the village council–has agreed to allow the firm’s entry into the exploration site.

In return, OGPEC has given P50,000 to the Papaya BDC immediately after the signing of the agreement, and P30,000 for every three months during the exploration, purportedly to fund “community development projects”.

He, however, expressed doubt if Puguon was authorized by the village council to enter into an agreement with OGPEC, as required by the local government code.

Gozar declined to comment on the issue that the exploration site in Papaya was declared as a watershed, but acknowledged that the villagers’ petition is a matter that should be addressed by the company.

According to Jerrysal Mangaoang, regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Cagayan Valley, said there was no reason for villagers to be concerned even if Papaya exploration site is within a watershed.

“An (environmental compliance certificate) will take care of mitigating measures vis-à-vis the environment. If it’s simply a watershed like any mountain with trees, then it’s not prohibited for mining,” he said.

Deaf government

Governor snubbed as UK firm’s mine permit OKd anew

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — The country’s environment officials have ignored the plea of Nueva Vizcaya Governor Luisa Cuaresma to deny any application for an exploration permit in an upland village in Quezon town that was hard hit by flashfloods last year.

Horacio Ramos, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), approved on Thursday the renewal of the permit of Metals Exploration Mineral Resources Corp. (Metex), a British firm, despite Cuaresma’s request that any application for a mining permit in Runruno village be “outrightly denied.”

In her July 2 letter, Cuaresma told then Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes that instead of pushing mining, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should first undertake rehabilitation efforts in the area and revoke the exploration permit given to Metex.

Jerrysal Mangaoang, MGB director for Cagayan Valley, said Ramos’ approval came after Reyes gave the clearance on July 30, a day before the secretary left office.

Reyes, who has been named energy secretary, has been at the environment department replaced by former Manila Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza.

Reyes has been under fire over allegations of having engaged in last-minute approvals before he left the DENR July 31, including the DENR’s US$1.3-million payment to a foreign company engaged in a controversial air pollution project.

Mangaoang denied that Cuaresma’s plea was ignored by MGB in considering the renewal of Metex’s exploration permit.

“Management upstairs may have considered also the manifesto [opposing mining] by the more than 1,000 people from Runruno,” he said.

In a statement issued by the company last week, Jonathan Beardsworth, Metex chief executive officer, confirmed the renewal of the exploration permit.

The permit covering about 3,090 hectares in Barangay Runruno was first issued to Greenwater Mining Corp. in 2000 and was transferred to FCF Mining Corp. on January 22, 2002.

In February 2005, FCF Mining forged a deal to allow Metex to explore and develop the Runruno project.

The original permit was renewed in 2005, and expired on July 21, 2007, documents showed.

In her letter, Cuaresma said she was alarmed by the exploration activities being conducted by Metex in Runruno, fearing a repeat of the “massive devastation” wrought by Typhoons Paeng and Queenie last year.

At least 13 people were killed when flash floods ravaged the village as Paeng hit in October. Mudslides buried about 70 houses in the village center.

“I am convinced that the conduct of any mining activity in the area will enhance the probability of another massive landslide,” Cuaresma said.

“I am compelled to express my vigorous opposition to the conduct of any mining activity in Quezon town.”