Bishop steps in as Vizcaya mining row gets violent
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena had to finally step in to resolve a mining conflict between tribal groups in the province and an Australian mining firm.
Villena had a hastily-called dinner with President Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang on Wednesday to seek her help in solving the mining conflict between Oxiana Philippines Inc. (OPI) and members of the Bugkalot, Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Ifugao tribes now living in Kasibu town.
The next day, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza ordered OPI to stop its planned exploration activities in the area, until the issues raised by the people there were resolved, according to media reports.
Dialogue with the President
In a statement made over the Catholic Church-run radio station dwRV on Friday, Villena narrated how he had to ask Ms Arroyo for a dialogue on Wednesday, hours after several tribal men and women in Kasibu were hurt following an attempt to dismantle their human barricade in remote Paquet Village.
“Over dinner, I told the President about the highly explosive and critical situation in Nueva Vizcaya. I told her my fear that there could be bloodshed and that lives might be lost because of the persistence of the mining company,” Villena said.
Immediately, the President called Atienza on the phone and asked him to talk to the bishop.
“(Secretary Atienza) assured me that he would act on my request immediately. Indeed, we have read in newspapers today about his order,” Villena said.
He said he was flustered when Sister Maria Eden Orlino, directress of the Church-based Diocesan Social Action Center (DSAC) reported to him by phone from the barricade site in Paquet Village about the violent dispersal of the protesters, most of them women. Scores were hurt during the dispersal.
Militiamen in plain clothes dragged protesters who sat in the middle of the mountain road to stop a bulldozer that was to be used by OPI for clearing the land at the exploration site.
“The bishop was crying over the phone when he heard about the confrontation, and immediately said that he would do his best to personally talk to the President about the matter,” Orlino said.
Since July 12, members of the Bugkalot, Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Ifugao tribes from six villages in Kasibu have been guarding the barricade to prevent the entry of OPI’s heavy equipment.
In his statement, Villena thanked Ms Arroyo for giving him the time and for listening to his plea and Atienza for “acting like a good father and brother.”
He called on officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, the local governments, OPI, the local church and the protesters to come together for a dialogue and conduct an honest-to-goodness consultation.
“The bottom line here is that no human life should be sacrificed for the sake of development or of mining. Above all these, human dignity must first be respected,” he said.
Villena said mining companies should use the Pao experience in learning the lesson that “no amount of wealth, not even guns, can destroy the determination of the people.”
Tribal folk, who were resisting OPI’s entry in Pao Village, welcomed Atienza’s order but said they were not leaving the barricade site.
“We are thankful to Secretary Atienza, if indeed, there is such an order. But we are also wary that this could just be part of the government’s tactics to soften our resistance,” said Benito Cudiam, vice chair of the Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response for Ecological Development (Kired), a people’s organization.
“We will remain at the barricade site until we receive the formal order for Oxiana to stop its activities,” Cudiam said.