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.

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