Squeeze for a foreign firm

Gov’t launches crackdown vs N. Vizcaya small miners

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Government has stepped up its campaign against illegal mining in the province by launching a crackdown against small-scale miners in an upland village in Kasibu town, to make way for the entry of an foreign firm that is trying to start large-scale mining operations there.

Clarence Baguilat, regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Cagayan Valley, said government personnel and police troopers swooped down on Didipio village on Monday, padlocking illegal mining installations and destroying tunnels.

“This is just part of the plan that we began to implement since last year to address of small-scale miners in the area–to remove those who are doing the mining there so that the company could start its development,” he said.

OceanaGold Philippines Inc., an Australian firm, has been attempting to proceed with its gold-copper project, but was hampered by issues like resistance of the tribal community, as well as the presence of small-scale miners.

The miners have dug holes around Dinkidi hill in Sitio Bacbacan, which sits on the main mine deposit that is said to generate about 130,000 gold ounces and 46 million pounds of copper yearly for the next 15 years, according to an OceanaGold report released in January this year.

Earlier, officials of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau estimated the number of small miners to have reached around 300, most of whom were supposedly financed by wealthy businessmen, mostly from Ifugao province.

Baguilat, who heads the task force that was formed to drive out illegal miners from the mine site in the sub-village of Bacbacan, said he ordered the operation after the group refused to heed earlier warnings to vacate the proposed mine site.

“We are executing this move peacefully, and the miners will not be driven out by force. We continue to hold dialogues with them,” he said.

Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, said 120 police officers–50 from the police regional mobile group based in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan, and 35 from each of the provincial mobile groups of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino–were deployed to assist DENR workers in the crackdown.

Quoting sketchy reports from the site, an undetermined number of ball mills (an improvised machine used to grind ore) and tunnels have already been padlocked in the three-day operation, which is expected to end Wednesday, Duran said.

The team did not encounter any form of resistance from the small miners, he added.

In an earlier interview, Peter Duyapat, president of the Didipio Earthsavers Movement, a people’s organization, said the miners have stood their ground on the belief that they have a better right over the Didipio’s natural resources.

“It is becoming clear that the government prefers a foreign company to benefit from these deposits, not we Filipinos, who are already in the area,” he said.

Environment groups have expressed concern that the absence of independent groups to monitor the operation may have spawned human rights violations committed against the small miners, who are mostly members of tribal groups.

“We just hope that the rights of the small miners will still be respected nevertheless. What we have gathered is that most of them are not from Didipio,” said Merly Calubaquib of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, a non-government organization.

Sister Maria Eden Orlino, directress of the church-based Diocesan Social Action Commission, for her part, said, “I think what is non-negotiable is the [giving of] proper information [to the people] and peaceful implementation, [including the conduct of] dialogue.”

Sought for comment, Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs said the company is currently negotiating with the group of small scale miners, offering alternative jobs if the company’s mining operation will be allowed to push through.

“The artisan miners are willing stop their operations for jobs and livelihood endeavors,” he said.

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