Buying N. Vizcaya’s IPs

Mine firms dangle cash to get tribes’ nod

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Foreign firms that are attempting to conduct mining exploration in ore-rich areas in the province have devised a way in getting the approval of affected tribal communities: give them money.

Documents showed that in the villages of Papaya and Pao in upland Kasibu town, where two mining companies claim to have obtained the consent of residents for their exploration activities, written agreements contained provisions which promise cash to villagers.

Royalco Resources Limited, formerly Oxiana Philippines, Inc. (OPI) has committed to give “monthly salaries” of P3,000 to P4,000 to 34 tribal elders and leaders of the Bugkalot in the area, who gave their approval of the project.

The amount is the tribe leaders’ supposed compensation as liaison officers for the duration of the two-year exploration project, according to a compliance certificate issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

The certificate was issued to indicate that the Bugkalot tribe in the area has given its free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the project. OPI’s exploration site in Pao and Kakidugen in the hinterlands eastern Nueva Vizcaya has been declared as the Bugkalot’s ancestral domain.

Aside from the tribal leaders’ salaries, Royalco has also pledged to provide a “trust fund” of P150,000 to the Bugkalot Indigenous Cultural Community.

On the other hand, OceanaGold Philippines Exploration Corp. (OGPEC), has also given P50,000 to barangay officials of Papaya upon signing of an agreement expressing the village’s approval of the firm’s exploration project.

It has also pledged to give the village a quarterly payment of P30,000, supposedly for “community development projects” in the village, the agreement entered into by OGPEC and the Papaya village government showed.

“How can there be free consent from the affected tribe when they are being lured with money in exchange for their approval [of the project]? This clearly is exploitation of our indigenous peoples,” said Bernabe Almirol, convenor of Dapon Ingenous Peoples Center, Inc., a non-government organization.

Almirol said majority of the people in Kasibu have remained steadfast in opposing mining in their communities, and rejecting the monetary benefits being offered to them by the companies.

OPI failed to enter the exploration site last month after Kalanguya, Ifugao and Bugkalot villagers, including and teenagers and women, set up a barricade and stopped the passage of heavy equipment by sitting in the middle of the mountain road in Paquet village.

Residents in Papaya have signed a petition rejecting OGPEC’s exploration project, citing a barangay ordinance that declared their village as watershed area, and thus, should be free from any mining activity.

They assailed village chief Avelino Puguon for signing an agreement with OGPEC and personally receiving the P50,000, allegedly without consultation with other officials and villagers.

Sought for comment, mining company officials denied that they were bribing the tribal leaders to approve of their respective exploration projects.

“The thrust of the company is development, so that when we explore and we don’t find anything feasible [after the mining exploration], we hope that even when we leave the area, our programs can have an impact on the lives of the people,” said Joey Nelson Ayson, Royalco country manager.

Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president said it is not their company’s policy to engage in bribery to get the people’s consent.

“Rather, we support livelihood community development and the general upliftment of the standards of living of the Papaya community as direct beneficiaries of the project,” he said.

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