Harassment suits?

Local execs, NGOs defend anti-mining Vizcaya mayor

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Town officials and non-government organizations (NGOs) on Monday defended the mayor of an upland town here and denounced a foreign mining firm for allegedly harassing people opposed to mining operations in the province.

Colleagues of Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban have crossed party lines to assail the contempt charges filed against him by Oxiana Philippines Inc., saying the suit was meant to force the mayor to soften his anti-mining stance.

The firm, according to its officials, is now known as Royalco Resources Limited but it filed the charges under its old name, Oxiana.

Bayombong Mayor John Severino Bagasao, a lawyer, said Tayaban was being charged on grounds that, according to him, “were not contemptuous” at all.

Oxiana lawyers asked the regional trial court (RTC) here last week to cite Tayaban in contempt for allegedly saying that he no longer trusted the country’s judicial system.

This was reportedly made during a dialogue in connection with the standoff between Oxiana and residents who had set up a barricade in Paquet village to prevent the entry of the firm’s exploration equipment.

Joey Nelson Ayson, Oxiana’s country manager, dismissed allegations that the company was harassing Tayaban.

“It is not the policy of the company to do that. In fact, if I had my way, I would prefer not to push through with the suit because by doing that, the company would only be making more enemies in the area, which was detrimental to our cause,” he said.

“I suppose our lawyer or our field personnel may have thought of filing the complaint as a way of ensuring that the wheels of justice in our country continue turning,” Ayson said.

Since July 2, about 1,000 residents from six of Kasibu’s villages have blocked the road leading to Oxiana’s exploration site in Pao, prompting the company to file injunction suits against them.

Company officials said Tayaban supposedly made the statement as lawyer Voltaire Garcia, provincial sheriff, showed him the order issued by Regional Trial Court Judge Jose Godofredo Naui that stopped residents from preventing Oxiana’s entry.

“I don’t see anything contemptuous in it, being a general statement. It is merely like saying I don’t have trust in the police,” Bagasao said.

Santa Fe Mayor Florante Gerdan said he was joining Tayaban in his crusade against mining, because the latter “should continue to fight for his people, and not for others.”

Bagabag Mayor Nestor Sevillena, president of the mayors’ league in the province, said their group would decide what actions to take on Tayaban’s case in a meeting on Oct. 9.

Environment groups said they would launch an “international shame campaign” against the company for allegedly harassing local officials who were merely defending the rights of their constituents.

“This is a clear case of persecution by the company, and a violation of [Tayaban’s] freedom of expression,” said Merly Calubaquib, provincial chief of Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM).

Sister Maria Eden Orlino, directress of the church-based Diocesan Social Action Commission, said Oxiana was bent on exhausting all means to justify its claim that its “questionable” exploration permit was valid.

“[Oxiana] should address the main issues and not the peripheral ones,” she said.

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