In your face

Tribe leaders tell DENR chief of bribery, fraud by mining firm

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Local officials and tribal leaders in an upland town here on Wednesday revealed to visiting Environment Secretary Lito Atienza the alleged bribery and deception committed by workers of an Australian company trying to explore their lands.

In a dialogue with Atienza, Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and six village chiefs disclosed how officials and employees of Oxiana Philippines, Inc. supposedly connived to push the firm’s exploration project in Pao and Kakidugen villages.

“Their common strategy is to call the people to a banquet at the village center, then let them sign an attendance sheet. We later found out that these were used as supporting documents as proof of of the people’s support for the mining project,” he said.

Geologists from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) have been entering Kasibu without giving the courtesy to local officials, Tayaban said.

“There were those who came to my office saying they were getting water samples from our rivers for a geologic study. But we were shocked later that they were actually looking for ore-rich sites,” he said.

Village chief Mariano Maddela of Pao said Royalco has allegedly been using a relative as conduit and offer him P180,000 in exchange for his support to the project.

“I just wish that the company stops all these foolishness and go home because as long as I am the village chief, [the company] can never enter our barangay,” he said in the dialect.

Pao occupies the proposed 5,873-hectare exploration site granted to Oxiana, now known as Royalco Resources Limited.

Asked to comment on the allegations, Joey Nelson Ayson, Royalco country manager, said: “That is not true.” He did not elaborate.

Royalco’s permit, issued in 2000 to Oxiana, was extended in July by MGB this year amid allegations that the extension was illegal because the maximum two-year period has already expired.

Tribal leaders blamed the lure of money offered by Royalco to some members of the Bugkalot tribe for creating envy and distrust among their people.

Documents from the National Commission on Indigenous People stated that the company has agreed to pay as much as P4,000 to 14 members of the Bugkalot tribe while 19 others were to get P3,000 a month, both as the firm’s “liaison officers”.

“The company is taking advantage because to our people, P4,000 is already a big amount, so they agreed,” said Lucas Buay, chair of the Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response for Ecological Development, a people’s organization.

Felimon Blanco, village chief of Paquet, said non-Bugkalot tribes were angered by their exclusion from the “sham” consultation process conducted by the NCIP.

He expressed concern that the peace covenant entered into by Bugkalot natives and migrant tribes there, through a blood compact their forefathers did in 1950s, would be annulled if conflicts start to arise among tribes due to the mining controversy.

Tayaban lamented that the mining issue has caused divisiveness among his people, who used to live peacefully despite belonging to various indigenous groups.

“We are now a divided town. Members of the same family, tribe or even neighbors are fighting because they are either pro- or anti-mining,” Tayaban said.

In his response, Atienza said he will order an investigation into the allegations of the tribal leaders.

“If you are saying you were not consulted, I will tell the company to include you in the consultation process. If it’s true that the process was not followed, I will personally make sure that it will be followed this time,” he told the tribal leaders.

‘Jueteng’ land

Payola from gambling strong come-on for village, SK bets

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The continued operation of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” here has made posts in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan tempting, with candidates expecting to be beneficiaries of the supposed payoffs given to local officials, sources said Monday.

Voters expressed disgust over the large number of candidates who lacked the credentials needed for the job, and view the elective positions in the barangay as a “racket” because of “jueteng”.

“There’s so many of them, but they don’t talk about any platform at all. They are so interested because our town is now virtually a haven for illegal gambling,” said bank employee Marren Aguada of Bambang town.

P03 Dexter Divad of the Solano police said a candidate for village council in barangay Quezon told him that bribe from illegal gambling has lured him to try his luck at politics.

“He said kagawads are included in the ‘jueteng’ payola, which is more than what he earns as a tricycle driver,” he said.

The illegal numbers game has continued to proliferate in at least 10 lowland towns here, with winning number pairs drawn thrice daily at various locations in each town.

Michael Tiongson, Solano town council member, expressed alarm over reports that even SK bets are now being lured by their expected share in the “jueteng” payola.

It is worrying, Tiongson said, because at this stage, the SK elections are teaching the youth to cheat and do all things necessary in order for them to win in an election, and engage in corrupt activities.

“Maybe it’s an offshoot of what we have all been hearing about Malacañang lately,” he said, alluding to allegations of election fraud and bribery against the highest officials of the country.

According to Tiongson, a former village council member of Poblacion North in Solano, the monthly honorarium of a barangay council member can range from P1,000 to P6,000, depending on the internal revenue allotment the village receives.

Motherhood

As the campaign ended on Saturday, voters noted that candidates’ promises revolved around motherhood statements on good governance, equality and livelihood for the poor.

“It’s all the same. The campaign sounded like a continuation of the partisan May elections, where candidates and their supporters went at each other,” said provincial board member Maybelle Blossom Dumlao.

Bets in urban towns talked about how they plan to solve their drainage and garbage problems, better access to basic health services, and provision of street lights.

Rejection

Move to oust mining firms gains ground in Vizcaya

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The campaign against large-scale mining intensified here after the provincial board on Wednesday moved to oust two foreign companies that tried to operate gold-copper mining projects in two upland towns.

In a resolution, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the exploration activities of MTL Philippines Inc., a British company, following its rejection by residents in Runruno village in Quezon town.

Also on Wednesday, Board Member Edgardo Balgos denounced in a privilege speech the “terrorism” being committed by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (Ogpi) in its attempt to start its gold-copper project in the village of Didipio in Kasibu town.

In issuing the resolution, the board gave credence to a petition by farmers’ groups opposing the project, fearing a repeat of the 2006 tragedy that killed 13 people and rendered families homeless as mudslides buried houses and farmlands in the village.

“Most of the petitioners who are dependent on agriculture as their primary source of income are alarmed and troubled that their farmlands will be buried in mud, rocks, sand and gravel as what happened during the onslaught of Typhoon ‘Paeng,'” the board said.

It cited the findings of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) that declared the vulnerability of the area to flashfloods and mudslides, which may be worsened by ongoing mining activities.

“The provincial planning and development office [also] expounded on the potential social and environmental effects of mining in the province wherein mining claims encroach on settlement and [ancestral domain claim] areas, critical watersheds, protected lands and hazardous areas,” the board said.

Lawyer Nena Santos, MTL counsel, declined to comment on the board resolution. Santos, however, referred the writer to a resolution of the Quezon town council that supposedly denounced the provincial board resolution.

In July, Governor Luisa Cuaresma asked former Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes not to renew MTL’s expired exploration permit, and instead asked the national government’s help to rehabilitate the area.

Reyes, however, renewed the permit before he was transferred to the Department of Energy.

‘Deceived’

In his speech, Balgos accused Ogpi of violating the six conditions set by the board when it issued its endorsement of the project in 2005. These included road development in the area and jobs for locals.

Because of the unfulfilled conditions, Balgos said: “My message to OceanaGold is this: Leave Didipio. Leave Nueva Vizcaya.”

The company, he said, has promised the board several times that they will improve the roads leading to Didipio.

“But what did they do? They improved the road from the Quirino side,” Balgos, chair of the SP committee on legal affairs, said.

Because of this, according to Balgos, Didipio residents would now rather buy their basic commodities and other needs from markets in Quirino, instead of those in Nueva Vizcaya.

This is because travelling using the newly-improved Quirino route is now easier, faster and cheaper, he said.

The promise of jobs was likewise not fulfilled, Balgos said, because OGPI has been importing miners from Benguet, supposedly because locals lacked the skills.

“How can they say that our people are unskilled when many of them had small mining as their source of livelihood for generations?” the official said.

Balgos also called for an investigation into the alleged illegal entry of OGPI into the nearby village of Papaya, where the company has been starting to conduct exploration without obtaining the consent of local communities.

Ramoncito Gozar, Ogpi vice president for communications and external affairs, on Thursday asked to be given time to respond to Balgos’ statement.

Smacked

DENR chief gets rebuff over Nueva Vizcaya mining

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — A unified call from local officials, church leaders and residents to reject three mining projects in the province greeted the visit here of Environment Secretary Lito Atienza on Wednesday.

Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena, along with tribal folk from upland Kasibu town, asked Atienza to revoke the permit issued to Oxiana Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm, to explore an ore-rich area in Pao village.

Small miners also disclosed the alleged deceit and manipulation allegedly resorted to by workers of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., also an Australian company, to convince landowners in Didipio in Kasibu to sell their lands to the company.

Provincial board members presented to Atienza a copy of their resolution asking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the exploration activities of British firm MTL Philippines, Inc. in Runruno village in Quezon town.

Atienza was here to dialogue with Villena and tribal leaders from eight upland villages in Kasibu, who have led their people in setting up and maintaining a road blockade since July 2 to prevent the entry of Oxiana, now known as Royalco Resources, Ltd.

He also separately met with local officials and Department of Environment and Natural Resources personnel.

During the dialogue, Atienza admitted he was “overwhelmed by the deluge of complaints and statements rejecting large-scale mining projects here.”

He, however, made a pitch for mining, saying “our country was bestowed with natural resources that must be used for its own development.”

He urged the tribal leaders to look at the “overall picture, and to consider the ways to help uplift the conditions of the greater number of people.”

“Not all countries have these minerals. China may be a big country, but it does not have as rich resources as the Philippines. We are poor, but it’s because we have mismanaged our government, we have mismanaged our resources,” he said.

Atienza cited the experiences of Arab countries, as well as New Zealand and Australia, which supposedly became progressive because of the “wise use” of their natural resources.

He said, however, the tribal leaders raised valid issues that the DENR must look into, including the selective consultation among landowners and the supposed defective conduct of the free, prior and informed consent for projects in areas occupied by tribal groups.

But Villena rebuffed Atienza’s statement that likened the country’s mining resources to those of oil-rich Middle East nations.

“(Let’s) look at Iraq right now. They may have all the oil, but there is no peace there, there’s always violence. So where’s the development?” he said.

Villena, whose diocese covers Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, said he was “deeply hurt” that the entry of foreign mining projects has divided the people in upland communities, most of them belong to tribes.

“The most expensive social cost of mining is when families are wrecked. Development is good, but it must not only be done for profit, but for the center of development which is human dignity and human life,” he said.

The bishop was led to tears as he recalled how a number of those in the barricade, including women and children, were hurt after Royalco workers dragged them away from the road.

“If one life will be sacrificed because of mining, then this will be the greatest tragedy in Nueva Vizcaya. You cannot take any life for the sake of a foreign investor,” he said.

Citing allegations of corruption among DENR personnel, Villena assailed officials who, he said, were bribed by the company to get their mining permit and be allowed to push through with their mining activities.

Second knockdown

N. Vizcaya tribal folk score anew vs foreign mining firm

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Tribal communities in upland Kasibu town scored another victory against a giant foreign-owned company Monday after a court here dismissed the injunction suit the firm lodged against villagers who have been opposing the firm’s planned mining exploration in the area.

Judge Jose Godofredo Naui of RTC branch 37 threw out the petition of then Oxiana Philippines, Inc., an Australian company, after it failed to prove that its Filipino representative, Lourdes Dolinen, was authorized to stand for the company during the Sept. 25 pre-trial hearing.

“The result of [the lack of authority] was that for all intents and purposes, [Oxiana] was absent during the pre-trial. Section 5 of the [Rules of Court] gives the effect of failure to appear: dismissal of the action,” Naui said.

Oxiana filed the complaint after residents, led by village chiefs Mariano Maddela of Pao, Felimon Blanco of Paquet and Orlando Binoya of Dine, set up a barricade along the road leading to its 5,873-hectare exploration site in Pao and Kakidugen villages.

The company is now known as Royalco Resources Limited after the sale of all its assets. However, it filed the injunction suit using its old name Oxiana.

Joey Nelson Ayson, Oxiana country manager, declined to comment on the dismissal of the case, saying he has yet to receive a copy of the court order, and that he would have to discuss the matter first with company lawyers.

It was the second successive victory for 24 village leaders and tribal men and hundreds of other tribal folk who the company tried to prevent, through the injunction case, from blocking the road.

Last month, Environment Secretary Jose Atienza ordered company officials to stop its attempt to force its way through the barricade after violence erupted between picketers and Oxiana employees on Aug. 29.

Since July 2, about 200 villagers have been holding alternate shifts guarding the road in Paquet village. The number reached 1,000 in the last week of August, when a bulldozer hired by the company was stopped by people who sat on the dirt road as it tried to drive past the blockade.

In a five-page order which the court released Tuesday, Naui noted that documents submitted by Oxiana as supposed evidence of Dolinen’s authority to represent the company did not state that she was given the power to perform all acts necessary for the suit to proceed.

“The rule is clear and does not need any interpretation: the representative must be authorized in writing… The authority must be complete so that the representative can make decisions regarding the important matters to be taken up during the pre-trial,” he said.

In the earlier stages of the case, Oxiana submitted a board secretary certificate, then a board resolution, which picked Dolinen as its attorney-in fact to file a complaint against Maddela [and others].”

The court, however, noted supposed discrepancies in the two documents, as well as the signatures of two board members.

“[Oxiana] Directors Peter Topham and David Ogg appear to have signed the minutes [of board meeting]. However, the minutes state that they were allowed to participate by teleconferencing since they were abroad at that time,” the order said.

The group’s lawyers had earlier questioned the firm’s personality as plaintiff in the case, alleging that Oxiana did not have legal standing as it had already been dissolved by Royalco at the time that it filed the suit.

The defendants expressed relief over the news that the case has been dismissed.

Maragsakankami ta rimmuar met lang ti agpayso. Naiparangarang nga awan nga talaga ti karbengan dagita nga nagidarum kadakami (We are happy because the truth has come out. It was revealed that those who sued us did not have any right to do it after all),” said Benito Cudiam, one of the respondents and vice chair of the Kasibu Inter-tribal Response Toward Ecological Development (Kired), a people’s organization.

But because Oxiana continues its bid to enter Pao by way of other routes, Cudiam said, “tuloy pa rin ang laban (the fight goes on).”

Drive goes pffftt

Crackdown fails to drive out N. Vizcaya small miners

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Government agencies launched a crackdown on illegal mining this week, but this has failed to drive out small miners from their tunnels in Kasibu town, according to reports reaching this writer.

Residents said about 200 small-scale miners had gone back to reopen the tunnels in Barangay Didipio, which environment officials and policemen closed down in a three-day operation that began on Oct. 8.

The miners returned after officials of Oceana Gold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), a foreign mining firm, allegedly failed to provide assurance that they would be paid for property that were either lost or damaged in the crackdown, the villagers said.

“They’ve closed down our tunnels, so where are we supposed to get our daily sustenance? All that company officials were saying was that they were first going to study our claims,” said one miner, who asked not to be named for reasons of safety.

Personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, escorted by about 120 policemen, mounted the crackdown against a group of men who have been supposedly mining illegally on Dinkidi Hill, site of OGPI’s proposed gold-copper project in Didipio.

Clarence Baguilat, environment director in Cagayan Valley region, said members of the Task Force Didipio were sent to clear the mine site of illegal miners and to allow the development of the project.

Roberto Apigo, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said the team padlocked ball mills used in the illegal mining operations, and blocked about 20 tunnel entrances with planks of wood.

The villager said the miners returned to the site at dusk on Oct. 10 to reopen the tunnels and cut the steel chains that were wrapped around the balls mills.

The miners were demanding payment for the cost of the materials that they had spent in constructing the tunnels, their tools, and the body of ore that they had already dug up and had stored inside the holes.

Demanding payment

“Some of the government personnel knew that we were reopening the tunnels, but they did not prevent us because they understood our position,” one tunnel operator said.

OGPI officials, however, said the company would not grant all the miners’ claims for payment.

“The [crackdown] is a government operation to stop illegal small-scale mining in the province which we are not a party to. We [will not] compensate their closed tunnels or [their] displacement,” said Ramoncito Gozar, OGPI vice president for communications and community relations.

The company has been offering jobs and livelihood for the miners who will be displaced by the operation in the spirit of partnership, but they have refused it, he said.

Apigo declined to comment on the re-opening of the small miners’ tunnels.

Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, who leads the police contingent of Task Force Didipio, said some miners insisted on reopening the tunnels after receiving word that the provincial government was inclined to give them small-scale mining permits.

Vice Gov. Jose Gambito, former chair of the provincial small-scale mining regulatory board, confirmed this.

“I think [the miners] have filed their applications. If they are qualified and allowed by law, why [can’t they be given permits]?” Gambito said.

Leaving RP made easier

Arroyo OKs move to bring POEA closer to Cagayan Valley

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has approved the establishment of a satellite office of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in Cagayan Valley, Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena said Friday.

Villena, who heads the regional development council (RDC) of Cagayan Valley, said Arroyo, over lunch on Monday, ordered Labor Secretary Arturo Brion to immediately consider putting up a POEA office in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan.

“I am sure many of our people in Cagayan Valley will be pleased with this development. They have been longing that the POEA be brought closer to them,” Villena said.

He said he brought the matter to Arroyo following discussions with RDC officials on the difficulty faced by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Cagayan Valley in transacting with the POEA.

“The POEA office in San Fernando City [La Union] is the only one that attends to the needs of OFWs in Cagayan Valley, Ilocos and Cordillera regions. Going there has been more expensive and tedious for our OFWs, who are mostly from poor families,” he said.

POEA records showed that for 2006, 40,068 Cagayan Valley residents left for abroad as overseas workers.

Of the five provinces in the region, Isabela deployed the biggest number of OFWs with 18,851 workers, followed by Cagayan with 13,845, and Nueva Vizcaya with 5,708.

The number, however, does not include undocumented overseas workers who traveled overseas as tourists.

According to Villena, the difficulty of travel from the Ilocos region to San Fernando City in La Union has forced Cagayan Valley OFWs to go to the POEA central office in Pasig City, instead.

“During our last RDC meeting, one of the appeals of the council members was the POEA office, so I have made the commitment to directly ask the President about it. We are grateful that she acted positively on it,” he said.

The soon-to-be-opened office is expected to cater to the needs of OFWs from Region 2 and the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao in the Cordillera, Villena said.

Grace Ursua, regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) here, said however, that her office has not yet been officially informed about the President’s directive.

“DOLE Region 2, Owwa [Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration] and Tesda [Technical Education and Skills Development Authority] have recommended that to Undersecretary [Romeo] Lagman during his Sept. 6 visit to Cagayan,” she said.